Review: ‘Exploding Oedipus’

Bruce Ramsay, and Tania Meneguzzi

Impressionistic, visually stylish pic deconstructs its main character -- a young man having a meltdown of personal identity. Apart from the basic Freudian shtick insisted upon by the title, "Exploding Oedipus" is too willfully obscure to reach any but the most patient auds, and even those won't be rewarded by its underdeveloped sense of drama.

Impressionistic, visually stylish pic deconstructs its main character — a young man having a meltdown of personal identity — and rolls him around in references to other pix and streams of bohemian thought. Apart from the basic Freudian shtick insisted upon by the title, “Exploding Oedipus” is too willfully obscure to reach any but the most patient auds, and even those won’t be rewarded by its underdeveloped sense of drama. Only 75 minutes as it is, pic would benefit by being compressed into an even denser half-hour — about the longest duration this Cuisinart approach can be sustained.

Bruce Ramsay, with alert eyes and close-cropped hair, plays Hilbert, a San Francisco man who, after his dad has a near-fatal heart attack, suddenly says good-bye to his elegant g.f. and departs their swank apartment in order to take seedy lodgings in the Tenderloin. There, he takes drugs, has weird run-ins with women and engages in anonymous sex with men, all while reading William S. Burroughs, whose haughty brand of poetic self-annihilation helmer-scripter Marc Lafia plainly means to emulate.

To do this, Lafia blends well-lensed bits of art effluvia with short excerpts from “High Noon” and longer segs of Hilbert’s home movies (grainy 8mm clips resembling those in Paul Cox’s “Man of Flowers”), which frequently return to a drunken slap from his mother (Tania Meneguzzi) meant to explain Hilbert’s fear of women and faltering sense of masculinity.

Women are presented as fiercely opaque creatures — except, that is, for a brief cameo from rocker Juliana Hatfield, whose dull presence is inexplicable. Elsewhere, music holds the images together, but this audio tapestry can’t cover the fact that no exchange of dialogue lasts more than 30 seconds and that Hilbert’s voiceovers tend to belabor the obvious while making the difficult stuff even more remote. Lafia, inclined to substitute cigarette smoking for character development, has a unique vision on display, but he doesn’t get far enough under anybody’s skin to make us care about it.

Exploding Oedipus

Production

An FD Films (San Francisco) production. Produced by Kenneth Wayne. Executive producers, Bill Kalm, Sue Campbell. Directed, written by Mark Lafia.

Crew

Camera (color), Hong-Wei Joplin Wu; editor, Joe Bini; music, Petey Reniche; music supervisor, Mary Jordan; production designer, Leonardo; art director, Xris Frank; set decorator, Amy Brownson; costumes, Victoria Moreno; associate producers, Jordan, Christine Sheaks, Irena Rogovsky; assistant director, Brian Benson; casting, Andrea Deveux. Reviewed at Seattle Film Festival, June 15, 2001. Running time: 75 MIN.

With

Bruce Ramsay, Charlotte Chatton, Tania Meneguzzi, Michael Jacob, James Cotton, Juliana Hatfield, John Detwiler, Matt Weimer, Boris Eckey, Tomoku Oku, Scott Ragel, Storm Large.
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