directed by Mike Figgis
(IFG, 2001)

Half an hour ... a full hour ... two hours and at the end of 2001's Hotel, and I keep asking myself -- what, exactly, is Mike Figgis' sinister, all-over-the-map, creepy, erotically charged film trying to do?

Is Figgis trying to waste an astonishing cast of Saffron Burrows, Rhys Ifans, John Malkovich, David Schwimmer, Burt Reynolds, Lucy Liu and a host of others? Is he making some Dogma-tinged experiment within a Dogma movie?

Whatever the can't-shake-them astonishment of more than a few scenes, what Hotel left me with is a roiling mind and a hangover. It didn't make me think, so much as it made me wonder what Figgis told his cast about the film beforehand that made them want to travel to Venice to make it.

Hotel essentially boils down to three stories, all told at once:

A production of "The Duchess of Malfi" is being filmed by producer Trent Stoken and director Jonathan Danderfine (Ifans and Schwimmer), and it's hard to decide which of these men is more savage to those around him.

A documentary about the filming is being produced by Charlee Boux (Salma Hayek).

And deep within the hotel, vampirish hotel employees are feasting on unfortunate guests.

Add in lots and lots of sex in various permutations, as well as language that spares no sensitive ears, and you've got three stories, sometimes equally horrific, all circling back on themselves.

Much of what I found frustrating and pretentious about Hotel had to do with Figgis's way of editing the material -- splitting the screen into four segments, say, so we can see what's going on in four rooms simultaneously. Too bad I can't follow four rooms' worth of ill-advised improvisation. Plus, Figgis had done that four-screen trick just a year earlier, in 2000's Timecode.

There's a fantastic sequence of flamenco dancing, but Figgis already has a 1997 movie, Flamenco Women. And the scene isn't really related to anything else.

Burrows is astonishing and, in fact, most of the cast is erratically riveting. But there's lots of honest emoting in the service of a royal, self-indulgent mess. Whatever enjoyment I got out of Hotel came from fleeting cinematic images, not characters (nobody has much of a backstory) or cohesiveness or any real inventiveness on the part of Figgis. It's a two-hour exercise in seeing how often you can stare, perplexed, at the screen and say "Whaaaat?!"

And it made me wonder how Figgis managed to avoid the dreaded NC-17 rating, considering the cannibals and the sex. My guess is the ratings board gave up watching after 15 minutes.

review by
Jen Kopf

15 November 2008

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new