Audie England plays Elena Martin (i.e. Anais Nin), an American living in Paris at theoutbreak of World War II. She has a passionate affair with Costas Mandylor (the poor man’sAidan Quinn), but when he is unfaithful, she leaves him. Desperate for money, she undertakes acommission to write erotic stories for an anonymous collector. So begins her sexual and literaryblossoming.
This is all very high-end stuff, with sumptuous cinematography and jazzy editing. King…has agood visual sense, but he isn’t as good with actors, and the script is embarrassing. Adapted fromNin by Elisa Rothstein and Patricia Louisianna Knop, the prose is hilariously purple andpretentious in a way that only something very shallow can be. This is a shame, as there aremoments of quite powerful visual storytelling. One example: as Hitler’s armies batter at the gatesof France, and the French fascists run rampant through the streets, Elena has a quick glimpse of aJewish man playing with his child, both heartbreakingly unaware of the terrible machine headingtheir way. This shot is brief and presented without commentary, yet through its understatementspeaks volumes. As for the sex scenes, they run the gamut from the boring to the intriguing(examples of the latter being a scene between a red-haired prostitute and an African clairvoyant,and a frantically edited sequence in an opium den). Other weaknesses include the fact thateverything about Audie England screams 90s instead of 40s, and a number of the Frenchspeakers are obviously not French.
As befits the lush appeal of the film, the sound comes in DTS, 5.1 and 2.0 versions:something for everybody. The music is particularly good: big, expansive, driving. The movie isat its best when it focuses purely on the visual and the musical. The dialogue is undistorted (butsometimes so muttered and whispered that subtitles are necessary). The surround effects aregenerally low key, and there are some lost opportunities (a protest march, for example, shouldhave had a much bigger sound than it does), but there is a nice background murmur during thecafé scenes.
I’ll say this for the film: it looks good. the colours are sumptuous (especially the reds), andthe flesh tones (thankfully) are excellent. The blacks are deep, and the contrasts are strong — thefilm is never murky, even during the numerous and very dark night scenes. There is no grain oredge enhancement to deal with. The image could be a little bit sharper, however. The asepct ratiois 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen.
The main extra is the fact that the film comes in both R and NC-17 versions. The differencecomes down to slightly longer sex scenes, and the nuance really tells you more about the fearfullittle gnomes who run the MPAA than anything else. Thus, in the R version, the first sex scenehas references to cunnilingus largely expunged, some full shots of the humping couple in theclairvoyant scene are gone, and the lesbian group coupling in the opium den is shorter. The NC-17 version works better, but the difference isn’t cataclysmic. The only other features are trailersfor Wide Sargasso Sea, The Invisible Circus, Invincible and TheSleeping Dictionary. The menu’s main page, intro and transitions are animated andscored.
The film looks and sounds nice, has all kinds of lushness to it, and is not uninteresting. It isalso often unintentionally funny. All this said, it is leaps and bounds ahead of other films of itstype. You make the call.
Special Features List
- NC-17 and R Versions
- Bonus Trailers