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Wednesday, Aug 26 1998
Genealogies of a Crime
The luck of an attorney famous for losing every case changes -- and not for the better -- when she takes on the defense of a young man who's evidently killed his aunt, a famed psychoanalyst. Catherine Deneuve plays both attorney and shrink; the doublings, transferences, and role-playing that follow lead to catastrophe in this fatalistic puzzle-box of a movie from Franco-Chilean Raoul Ruiz (Three Lives and Only One Death). Deneuve, whose run of strong roles in the 1990s must inspire envy among American actresses, lengthens her string of personal triumphs here. Ruiz, as usual, treats such serious matters as the psychic destruction of a young boy with sardonic humor, preferring to concentrate on the schematics of the unlikely tale he and Pascal Bonitzer have cooked up. "Fairy tales act on us as illnesses," we are told; and there is a feverish logic in the way such recurring motifs as eggs, cats, and broken china tie the film together. Also helping out is the movie's circular construction and such repeated events as funerals, murders, and the head-scratching of dandruff-covered analyst Michel Piccoli. The insane reasoning of it all pays off with a depressing, if inevitable, finale. Genealogies is not so much original as a reworking of the narrative games pioneered 30 and 40 years ago by Alain Resnais and Jacques Rivette. The former's Last Year at Marienbad is paid tribute to by a reference to "Robbe-Grillet decor," while the latter's "House of Fiction" conceit in Celine and Julie Go Boating is lifted wholesale for the one-way-mirror staged spectacle of a roomful of playacting analysts. "People assume stories are about them, when they're actually possessed by stories," we hear. In fact it's Ruiz who's possessed by the game-playing titans who've preceded him.

-- Gregg Rickman

Genealogies of a Crime screens Friday through Thursday, Aug. 28-Sept. 3, at 7 and 9:30 p.m. (with Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday matinees at 2 and 4:30 p.m.) at the Castro, 429 Castro (at Market). Tickets are $6.50; call 621-6120.

About The Author

Gregg Rickman


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