MEN CAN BE BITCHES, TOO
Apartment Zero starts out as a What sex am I? comedy, moves into allegory about Argentina’s infamous military regimes and death squads, then wraps as an update of Al Pacino’s Cruising. Doubt we’ll see an English-language movie anytime soon that captures, complete with melancholic fascist violin, Buenos Aires as quite the schizoid cesspool caught here: it’s an incipient Borges melodrama filtered through Manuel Puig. (Not Borges as literary giant of baffling mazes but Borges as polemic aware of his country’s periodic sado-militaristic bent.) A British pris born in B.A, Adrian (Colin Firth) is trapped in the labyrinth of the nation’s diseased psyche, not sensing how close he is to being infected by it. Making the movie more Puig, he’s kissed by the spider—running a retro movie house and his apartment a web of framed glossies of Monty, Bette, Liz, Orson, Cary, Ingrid, Vivien, Tyrone, Errol, Rita, Marlene—but he’s without Molina’s screeching effeminacy. He’s entertaining as pantywaist without repulsing us; loaded with straight-jacket affectations and growing turmoil over sexual impulse, he morphs into a sissy tough on the prowl. We’ve known for years that when Firth gets into the right roles—Darcy in Pride and Prejudice and George VI in The King’s Speech—he hits all the notes with a close equivalent of Method in that he inhabits the characters amply, physiologically as well as emotionally. (In the wrong parts, or directed shortsightedly as in A Single Man, he’s empty.) When Adrian finally confronts himself, Firth stays true to him by keeping him a bitch. If director Martin Donovan kept the movie a sex comedy, there’d be cheers about it being a guiltlessly likable sickie instead of a guilt-ridden one: clearly Firth and all the rest of the paranoid occupants of the apartment building in which he lives—including a transvestite (James Telfer) doing Sean Young as Ruth Roman—are made defenseless by movie glossy Hart Bochner, who, enduring close ups spectacularly, overflows with a “Take me, I’m yours” seductiveness. (He saves a cat, screws a tenant to becalm her anxieties, rescues a quasi dame in distress; he’s catnip for crazies.) He charms effortlessly, especially Liz Smith, who gives a close-to-peerless comic performance as a daffy Port slurper missing an upper lip. (All the loons gather in the apartment lobby and staircasing as an amusing theatrical chorus.) Some of Bockner’s character’s layers get sticky: is he less a blood thirsty political mercenary and more an addicted serial sex murderer? One leading to the other? I’d have done away with the climax Donovan asks us to accept—it’s Psycho unneeded—and instead would have had Firth and Bochner jointly possessing one another; that would be fitting punishment. Having been in B.A. the same year Donovan made Apartment Zero, I accept his intent on revealing the city’s pervasive mystique as a Theatre of Sick Souls. During those turbulent aftermath years, he should have been able to pack Cine York every night.
Text COPYRIGHT © 2005 RALPH BENNER (Revised 11/2017) All Rights Reserved.