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'Time Code'

Picture in picture: 'Time Code' follows the characters and splits the screen

Friday, May 26, 2000

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

"Time Code," playing exclusively at the Galleria in Mt. Lebanon, attempts such revolutionary visual techniques that it all but cries out for an equally ambitious storyline.

'Time Code'

RATING: R for language, sexuality, drug use and a scene of violence.

STARRING: Stellan Skarsgard, Salma Hayek, Jeanne Tripplehorn.

DIRECTOR: Mike Figgis.


CRITIC'S CALL: 2 1/2 stars.


Maybe that would have been too much for audiences to digest at once. But the movie's conventional tale of cheating lovers and Hollywood lifestyles seems more suited to a country-western song than to a project intent on displaying what could be the future of cinema -- a world of movies without film, uncut and unedited, shot and played back in real time.

Writer-director Mike Figgis turned his actors loose on the streets of Los Angeles with four cameramen (including himself) recording their every move on digital video, which allows scenes to continue for hours without a break.

He gave them the framework of the story and a set of synchronized watches, the latter to make sure the actors hit predetermined marks at the right time so that the characters would interact as scheduled. The rest was improvised. If an actor tripped, for example, it became part of the movie.

Figgis then assembled the parts onto a screen divided into quarters, so we can see what all the characters are doing at any one time. It proves surprisingly easy to follow -- the soundtrack points us to the area we need to watch to follow the story. Occasionally, I lost track of what was happening in a certain take but never to the degree where I got entirely bewildered.

Much of the time, though, characters not involved in the immediate action do nothing more than walk down a street or sit in a car. It allows us to read their moods or assess their psychological state. But it also reminds us why such scenes don't show up in conventional films.

At other times, the juxtapositioning works to build tension or irony or even to create humor. The best use of the technique allows us to watch Salma Hayek engaging in a tryst and, at the same time, her angry lesbian girlfriend, played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, surreptitiously eavesdropping from the back seat of her nearby limousine.

Hayek has also come to audition for a part in a movie. The producer, played by Stellan Skarsgard, has just broken up with his wife, played by Saffron Burrows.

So at any one time we might see Burrows unburdening to her therapist, Skarsgard taking a meeting with his staff, Tripplehorn fuming and Hayek primping for her audition. A large cast of supporting characters fill out the movie, including such talents as Holly Hunter, Julian Sands, Kyle McLachlan, Steven Weber and Leslie Mann.

The Hollywood setting seems apt for a movie exploring the very idea of cinematic storytelling. But it also makes "Time Code" into somewhat of an inside joke.

Passion, infidelity and how they affect people at the end of their rope are typical Figgis themes. But "Time Code" may require something more audacious and unconventional to draw our attention away from the movie's technique, which is designed to make us look at it in the first place.

It may be a Catch-22 that is impossible to avoid, but it winds up making "Time Code" a technical exercise first and a viable movie second.

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