By Kenny Hedges
Presumably, David Bowie would have had a blast. Not everyone can be David Bowie.
Ariele Dambasle’s Alien Crystal Palace is, in many ways, the antithesis to Nic Roeg’s similarly Venice-set Don’t Look Now. Where that film was a carefully textured, albeit intentionally obscure, thriller with muted primary colours and viscious swaths of red, Palace is flooded with overexposed daylight and cohering less often than not.
Obsessed with creating the androgyne (the perfect ethereal blend of man and woman), Hamburg – son of God Horus – sets out three mysterious followers to pursue and engineer a relationship between visual artist Delores Rivers (Dombasle) and the affected, unstable punk rocker Nicolas (Nicolas Ker). The presumptive set up is Rivers’ directorial efforts to create a biopic of Princess Ferial, the last Egyptian princess of which she herself is a descendant. Nicolas is brought on board to score the film, the two instantly feeling a kismet they resist in succumbing.
That’s the ostensible plot in a film that also draws narrative structure straight from the legendary Ed Woodian “Pull the Strings” moment and Roeg’s cult classic.
Naturally, with a plot like that, the film is essentially about filmmaking. The Egyptian Gods may serve as mostly a Greek chorus, though they do push the plot forward at key moments. Those moments are when the film feels at its most mainstream.
Unfortunately, however, Palace is too pretentious for its own good, often succumbing to its worst impulses. There are extended asides so common in French cinema without any of the charming romance or quirky delight often asssociated with such work. The characters are too underwritten for any emotional reasonance.
Perhaps that’s the point; that we’re all manipulated in ways beyond our control that true character amounts to very little. But what character they have, Nicolas and Delores constantly avoid – Nicolas with alcohol and Delores by constantly throwing women at her presumed soulmate to prevent consummation. But the film plays similar games, throwing plot contrivance into a work that is clearly not plot-driven.
At its best, Palace is an often dizzying, confounding piece of work. Whether its worth the effort of deciphering entirely depends on a viewer’s tolerance.
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