Friday October 8, 1999
Over the years, ceaselessly venturesome independent filmmaker Abel Ferrera has been drawn to dangerous, ultra-volatile heroes, often criminals living violent lives who nonetheless crave spiritual redemption, as epitomized by Harvey Keitel's tormented cop in "Bad Lieutenant." It takes actors like Keitel and Christopher Walken to play these roles--mature, forceful men with intellect to match their intensity.
Willem Dafoe is also such an actor, and he has now teamed with Walken to star in, as well as produce, Ferrera's "New Rose Hotel," which Ferrera adapted with Christ Zois from a short story by cyberpunk writer William Gibson.
Elliptical and stylized to the max, "New Rose Hotel" becomes primarily a chamber drama--the chambers being luxe hotel rooms in various cities around the world. It's as emotion-charged as any Ferrera film ever, yet whatever violence ensues happens offscreen. Plot counts for little--but allows for a bold experiment in structure and repetition. "New Rose Hotel" is a bravura mood piece, a fatalistic fable about a central character with the delusions of grandeur of an Orson Welles hero.
The film takes us "five minutes into the future," a time when Walken's Fox, who has spent his whole life making shady deals, is in Tokyo. There he and his longtime junior partner and pal, X (Dafoe), are planning to deliver from one corporation to another a brilliant geneticist, Hiroshi (Yoshitaka Amano, the renowned fantasy artist). Elaborate surveillance on the part of Fox has shown that Hiroshi has grown restless and frustrated in the workplace--and bored with his German-born dominatrix wife. He has found a corporate chief in Tokyo to pay him and X a whopping $100 million to deliver the geneticist.
Fox believes he has also found in Sandi (Asia Argento), a European working as a bar girl in Tokyo, just the woman sultry and shrewd enough to seduce Hiroshi away from job and wife for a fee of $1 million. There may be a hitch, however: X has grown tired of Fox's endless wheeling and dealing and is also drawn to Sandi, with whom he falls in love as he instructs her on the finer points of seduction.
Naturally, all does not go as planned, but what interests Ferrera is to draw from Dafoe and Walken portraits of middle-aged angst in a bleak near-future in which government and the corporate universe are virtually one--and totally corrupt. Dafoe's X is a sensualist longing for love and substance; Walken's Fox wants only to continue with his grandiose schemes of corporate/industrial espionage, for they are his only defense against old age and loneliness.
What Sandi really wants becomes the big question mark here. We're asked to simply accept the plot, never mind the details, and concentrate on the three principals, who in fact are most persuasive. Their murky, risky world may strike us as pure fantasy, but Fox, X and Sandi seem very real, with Argento sexy and poised enough to be so formidable a seductress. (X and Sandi may scorch the screen, but Ferrera wisely leaves Sandi's snagging of Hiroshi entirely to our imaginations.)
Cinematographer Ken Kelsch, a longtime Ferrera collaborator, and composer Schoolly D. have been crucial in helping the director create and sustain the dark, glittery and transient world of Fox, X and Sandi. "New Rose Hotel" is no place for literalists, but Ferrera fans should be pleased with this tale.
New Rose Hotel, 1999. R, for strong sensuality and language, including some same-sex-related dialogue. An Avalanche Releasing presentation of an Edward R. Pressman production. Director Abel Ferrara. Producer Edward R. Pressman. Executive producers Jay Cannold, Greg Woertz and Alessandro Camon. Screenplay by Ferrara and Christ Zois. Cinematographer Ken Kelsch. Editors Anthony Redman and Jim Mol. Music Schoolly D. Costumes David C. Robinson. Production designer Frank De Curtis. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. Willem Dafoe as X. Christopher Walken as Fox. Asia Argento as Sandi. Yoshitaka Amano as Hiroshi.