High Art - rated - SIMMERING

This is the first feature from director Lisa Cholodenko, a one-time protegée of Barry Levinson. It stars an unrecognisable Ally Sheedy and Australia's own object of Sapphic desire, Radha Mitchell.

These two actors really dominate the film with their extraordinary peformances. Also excellent is Patricia Clarkson (remember her as Daniel Benzali's wife in Murder One?) She is hilarious as Sheedy's girlfriend, a former actress in Fassbinder films. She has some great lines, and the relationship between Sheedy and Clarkson's characters has a wonderful air of stylish ennui about it. I also really enjoyed the performance (if you can use that word for such lethargy) of Hal Hartley regular Bill Sage as Arnie, the benign, heroin-addled friend.

The movie looks really good, it has a great soundtrack (by Shudder to Think), and a very witty script, with lots of barbed commentary on art, artists and art magazines, editors, hangers-on, heroin chic, postmodernism, Derrida, clothes, cinema, clubs, and the New York 'scene' in general. To me it seemed to have the ring of authenticity, but without taking itself too seriously: I laughed a lot as well.

The outcome is somewhat predicable, but then, I think, that's almost the point. This movie seems to be showing us a slight diversion on the road to self-destruction, and how it can affect an 'innocent' participant. Strangely, the movie (and its publicity) keeps telling us that this is a film about 'career moves,' ambition, and the cutthroat world of thre New York art scene. But the film itself does not focus so much on Radha Mitchell's character's ambition. It's more as if she were carried along on a wave of co-incidences and her actions are determined by other people's wishes .

This is a good film in its own right but, I think, compulsory viewing for anyone interested in contemporary art. And what I really admire is its restriant. Cholodenko resists the temptation to cram too many ideas into her first feature. She's right: with a talent like hers, there should be plenty of opportunity for her ito explore other ideas in future films.