Feb 1, 2014

Apartment Zero

While well known and praised for his sophisticated yet lethally lovelorn suicidal sodomite professor in A Single Man (2009) in a role that would earn him the first Academy Award nomination of his acting career, stereotypically English actor Colin Firth (Girl with a Pearl Earring, The King’s Speech) gave a much more interesting and radical performance over two decades before as a hysterical homo cinephile in the UK-Argentinean production Apartment Zero (1988) directed and co-written by Martin Donovan (State of Wonder, Somebody is Waiting) and shockingly co-written by Hollywood hack screenwriter/sometimes-director David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Panic Room). A penetrating and sometimes strangely campy psychosexual-thriller of the meta-cinematic sort that was practically specially tailored for cinephiles who like films with infinite replay-value, Apartment Zero is a celluloid ride drowning in intentional filmic clichés that manages to pay perverse tribute to everything from the films of Hitchcock to hagsploitation to Fassbinder to Lynch that ultimately reminds the viewer why they love the silverscreen. An aberrant anti-love story about an absurdly anally retentive closest-homosexual who essentially hates everyone aside from imaginary characters in movies and who ultimately falls in love with a charming yet extremely psychopathic terrorist turned serial killer but is too socially retarded and seemingly sexually sterile to properly pursue the relationship romantically, Apartment Zero is like the more charming, humorous, and stylish bastard Latin American brother of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). Created by the two minds responsible for penning the much more popular but innately inferior work Death Becomes Her (1992), Apartment Zero is a marvelously morally repugnant and oftentimes misanthropic movie with essentially nil redeemable characters that concludes on a uniquely unhinged note that is more in the spirit of Curtis Harrington meets Jörg Buttgereit than something you would expect from a monetary-motivated hack responsible for penning such blockbuster swill like The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) and War of the Worlds (2005). 

 Adrian LeDuc (Colin Firth) is the proud owner of a fancy rival house movie theater named ‘Cine York’ in Buenos Aires who has no real friends (though he superficially converses with fellow cinephiles) who lives in an imaginary world of dead Hollywood movie stars and directors, with portraits of James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Orson Welles, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, and various other icons adorning his immaculately decorated apartment. Indeed, a character with zero character who escapes in movies to fill the void of his non-life, Adrian automatically rejects most people because they simply do not know as much about movies as he does. Having spent 16 years in England due to the fact his now-deceased father was a cultural attaché, Adrian only really socializes with his mother as he is a crypto-homo mamma’s boy of the Norman Bates-esque variety, but unfortunately she has late stage Alzheimer's disease and no longer recognizes her son. Considering he owns a movie theater that only plays old classics and arthouse flicks, Adrian begins to lose money and is forced to rent out a room in his apartment, but luckily a tall, dark and handsome American stranger named Jack Carney (Hart Bochner) inquires about the room and the two ultimately become an ominous ‘odd couple.’ To the chargin of his jealous queen roommate Adrian, Jack instantly makes friends with the other tenants of the apartment building, which include two elderly busybody Anglophiles, a manly tranny, and a beautiful young lady he begins copulating with. Meanwhile, various beauteous women and effeminate gay men start getting killed around the city and not a single person has any idea who is responsible for the deaths. Indeed, death seems to be in fashion in Buenos Aires as the ticket seller at Adrian’s theater, Claudia (Francesca d'Aloja), begins setting up screenings of documentaries about death squads and political mercenaries for a far-left committee she belongs to. 

 Perturbed by the fact Jack oftentimes does not come home at night and is often late, Adrian begins investigating his roommate's background and discovers that he does not really work at the computer company he claimed to work for. While snooping around his roommate’s room, Adrian also finds old photos of Jack in paramilitary garb. Needless to say, Jack is an ex-mercenary who has developed an unquenchable bloodlust, thus he has decided to pickup the dead serious hobby of serial killing. At one of Claudia’s leftist documentary screenings, Adrian spots Jack on the screen while Jack is standing right behind him and realizes that his would-be-lover is a callous killer. Of course, Jack has no fear that Adrian will go to the cops as he knows his roommate is unwaveringly in love with him, but he decides to flee to America anyway. Stealing and falsifying Adrian’s passport, which he does not realize is expired, Jack is ultimately denied flight, so he cruises for a fag, kills said fag, and steals his passport. When the neighbors of the apartment watch a news program about the recent killings and wonder why Jack has disappeared, they all confront secretive weirdo Adrian, who is almost killed during the altercation by accident. Luckily, Jack shows up just in time to dissolve the apartment tenants’ fears and to attend to Adrian’s wounds. Meanwhile, Adrian’s mother drops dead and Claudia spots Jack in a photograph of a death squad and learns that his real name is ‘Michael Weller.’ Unfortunately for her, Claudia makes the mistake of confronting Jack and he murders her, which Adrian later walks in on. Instead of calling the police, Adrian volunteers to help Jack dispose of his employee’s bloody corpse. After dumping the chick’s corpse, Jack tells Adrian that he is flying back to the California in the morning and the latter volunteers to go with him. Of course, antisocial bitch boy Adrian later changes his mind as there is no way he cannot leave the escapist sanctuary that is his apartment, so he decides to pull a gun on Jack. After a scuffle with the weapon, Adrian ultimately kills Jack and keeps his rotting corpse as his daily companion. In the end, Adrian’s rival theater is turned into a sleazy porn theater (as demonstrated by a poster of the post-apocalyptic avant-garde Café Flesh (1982) directed by Stephen Sayadian hanging outside the theater), which the proprietor walks out of after a midnight screening dressed exactly like Jack, thus assuming his non-lover’s identity. 

 Following in the fine fucked tradition of Robert Altman’s 3 Women (1973), Fassbinder’s Despair (1978), and Philippe Vallois’ Nous étions un seul homme (1979) aka We Were One Man, Apartment Zero is a film about a weak antihero without a real identity who decides taking on the identity of someone else is the only way to develop some testicular fortitude and a real-life. Indeed, while looking vaguely similar, Adrian—a beta-male weakling of the socially awkward sort—and Jack—a manly man who both men and women swoon for—are total opposites whose personalities ‘complement’ one another as a sort of wayward and pathology-ridden yin and yang. Indeed, while the film’s title is in reference to the fact that Adrian’s apartment lacks a door name, it is also a reference to the fact that the character himself is a man without personality who is nothing more than a venomous void who is willing to go to the ungodly extreme of murder and assumedly necrophilia to become a ‘full’ person. Undoubtedly, I must admit that Adrian made a much wiser decision than Norman Bates, as the last thing the world needs to see is Colin Firth dressed in hag drag. Making references to films including (but certainly not limited to) Compulsion (1959), David and Lisa (1962), Catch-22 (1970), The Godfather (1972), The Conversation (1974), Eyes of Laura Mars (1978), Café Flesh (1982), and Blue Velvet (1986), Apartment Zero certainly makes no lie of its equally idiosyncratic celluloid influences. Of course, as auteur Martin Donovan confesses in the audio commentary for the Anchor Bay DVD release of the film,“I’m just as obsessed with movies as Adrian is,” though the filmmaker seems to have a much warmer personality than that of the protagonist of his film. As Donovan also confesses regarding his homeland in the commentary, “You know what they say about Argentina, don’t you? It is a country of Spanish-speaking Italians who live in French houses and they are very British.” And, indeed, one of the reasons for the aesthetic success of Apartment Zero is due to its truly striking and ethereally atmospheric quasi-European-like setting.  Indeed, made in a truly 'multicultural' country with a conflicted and seemingly schizophrenic identity featuring characters with mostly split-personalities/identities (i.e. multiple trannies, Argentinians who pretend to be British, young men pretending to be old housewives, etc.), Apartment Zero ultimately unwittingly makes a great cause against globalization, as well as cultural and sexual hegemony, which is just one of the many reasons why the film is a criminally underrated, especially compared to trash like Death Becomes Her.

-Ty E

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