A modern “La Ronde” played out under the shadow of AIDS, “Chain of Desire” is an uneven but alluringly sexy melodrama that gets better as it goes along. Enterprising, very handsome indie production boasts a strong cast of talented names and promising newcomers despite budget of well under $ 1 million, and should be quite promotable to sophisticated audiences by the right specialized distributor. World preem takes place Friday at the Montreal film fest.
A native Venezuelan with assorted theater and short film experience, writer-director Temistocles Lopez has made one previous feature, the ’88 “Exquisite Corpses.”
His new picture shows him to better advantage as a director than writer, but his sophisticated sensibility, talent with actors and implicit political commentary more than justify the presumption involved in refashioning Arthur Schnitzler’s play, so beautifully filmed in 1950 by Max Ophuls.
Pic, set in contempo N.Y., opens with club chanteuse Linda Fiorentino repairing to the solitude of a small church after breaking up with a b.f. But there she is approached by seductive building restorer Elias Koteas, with whom she begins a torrid affair.
And so it goes. Koteas’ sexy wife, Angel Aviles, works as a maid for depraved millionaire Patrick Bauchau, who tries to get her to participate in the bondage games in which he indulges with Grace Zabriskie. Latter has seen the passion disappear from her marriage to Malcolm McDowell, a TV commentator.
Up to this point, pic consists of a series of cloistered encounters between two individuals in which nothing is fleshed out psychologically or dramatically.
But, coincidentally or not, the situations and incidents become considerably more complex and intense once the pic switches into gay and bi territory. It turns out McDowell prefers boys these days and his assignation with a corn-fed street hustler leads the film into the edgy subculture of druggies, the homeless and those who would help them, young kids who are just getting started and the art world.
Hustler Jamie Harrold crashes at the apartment of lovers Tim Guinee and Dewey Weber. Latter is an attractive cabaret performer who stops just short of deflowering tasty teenager Holly Marie Combs.
Still on the lookout for the right man to take her into adulthood, Combs meets eminent painter Seymour Cassel at a gallery opening, and the aging philanderer stands up his gorgeous wife, Assumpta Serna. In return, Serna gives super hunky worker Kevin Conroy a roll on a large canvas.
Serna’s overt approach to Conroy reps the film’s hottest scene until the next one, a mini-classic of voyeuristic onanism involving three solo individuals that New York apartment dwellers will especially appreciate. The ultimate in safe sex proves, in this context, also to be the most exciting.
Wrap-up sees most of the characters convening by chance at the disco where Fiorentino is performing. Although no issue is made of sexually transmitted diseases until the end, a climactic revelation provides an appropriately sobering and inescapable point to such a tale of serial sex in this day and age. Pic does not moralize or editorialize, but very effectively underlines how little one may know about one’s sex partners and their former partners.
Dialogue could have been considerably sharper, structure is sometimes lumpy, particularly in the early going, and tightening by five to 10 minutes would help. But Lopez has made the most of his assembled virtues, which most prominently include his very capable and sexy cast, and exceedingly strong production values for a low-budgeter.
Nancy Schreiber’s lensing superbly captures the colors and moods of Gotham, while Scott Chambliss’ production design outstandingly evokes many strata of society. Composer Nathan Birnbaum and music supervisor Jeffrey Kimball have devised a largely effective soundtrack, although a more vigorous, intoxicating tune over the end credits could send people out in a more charged-up mood.