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Signs & Wonders

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 06/28/01 22:42:47

"Thoroughly Engaging. Sophisticated and at times, eerie"
5 stars (Awesome)

Signs and wonders stars Stellan Skarsgard (The math professor in Good Will Hunting) and Charlotte Rampling. Written and Directed by Jonathon Nassitor, based on a story by James Lasdun. Skarsgard plays Alec, an American stock trader living in Athens with his Greek born wife Marjorie (Charlotte Rampling) and their two kids. The film begins in a stark, curt, matter of fact story about a man who is having an affair. The story then deviates wildly, finding a new center every few scenes before dipping into a spiral towards madness and tragedy.

Alec is obsessed with coincidence. He has a "cosmic sense of the meaning of everything he does". Instead of this being a potent source for his poetic imagination, it leads to delusion. As a trader, Alec watches the market the way an astrologer interprets the positions of the planets at one's birth. There are general guidelines but ultimately you have to study the relationship of one thing to another and not the things themselves. Alec uses his keen sense of identifying meaning and patterns in the seeming chaos of the market in his personal life as well. He has even turned it into something of a game with his young daughter who gets infected by her father's madness in a very dark reflection of the relationship between Lewis Carroll and Alice of wonderland fame. Siri, his daughter (Ashley Remy) uses Alice in Wonderland to teach her father Greek and the story gets twisted up into Alec's meaning making process gone cancerous.

Alec is constantly searching for the "real" and when he thinks the world is telling him to leave his wife for Katherine (Deborah Kara Unger who is also in Crash), he does with alarming duty. Katherine later suggests that perhaps she engineered the whole thing and would that make a difference. This throws Alec for a loop. He thought there was some cosmic order to his choices and when he finds out he was manipulated, he loses all sense of himself. He tries to go back to his wife, searching for the signs that are telling him yes even as she tries to tell him no. At the moment his ex-wife. Marjorie, is marrying her new lover, Andreas (Dimitris Katalifos), Alec is convinced that she is on the verge of taking him back into the house and her life.

Katherine has her own bizarrely deluded moments. She seems so sane and sanitary on the surface but she's pathologically destructive not only with Alec's life, but Marjorie's as well. In a episode of the film inspired by Fatal Attraction, Katherine tries to kill Marjorie and get the US government to help her kidnap Alec's children through some diplomatic con job because Katherine thinks Marjorie is going to take Alec back.

The background of the film becomes something like a silent (and at times not so silent) commentary on global corporatization and the soul-less-ness of a commercial culture. Marjorie works at the US Embassy where she meets Dimitri at a state function. The US is helping Greece develop a democratic free market economy. Previously, the US supported a dictator who tortured dissidents like Dimitri. During this dinner, Dimitri makes note of the irony that the government that once tortured him is now lauding him and that nothing has changed but the face of the enemy. During the first five minutes of the film, a McDonalds is almost always in the background. When Dimitri suggests that the US businessmen support a museum dedicated to the spirit of resistance to the dictatorship, the good cheer suddenly stopped. A Boston company eventually steps in, telling Dimitri how "jazzed" he is to support "guys like you with all that Freedom stuff". He then hands Dimitri a baseball cap with a company logo and says, "welcome aboard". Dimitri's look of disgust isn't even registered by the businessman but Marjorie and he both know that his museum simply can't happen under such compromised circumstances. The "soundscape" background music by Portishead further enhances the moody bleakness of the film.

This commentary is nonstop in the film. Dimitri visits the once pristine countryside of his youth to find a mountain of garbage. And Marjorie gets into an argument over Dimitri's museum being seen as a vehicle for anti-American propaganda. "Propaganda?!", Marjorie yells, incredulously.

A shopping mall becomes the scenario for a life destroying conversation. This is not a land of pat answers or happy endings. They are beyond the containers they put themselves in. Their stories are mythic and so huge that no society, no culture, no geography can hold it. It's almost as if the gods came down to work out their differences in human form. And watching the sweeping panoramas of the Greek hillside, it is easy to see what would inspire visions of Olympus.

Excellent performances from the entire cast. Marcus (Michael Cook), Alec and Marjorie's son doesn't get much of a role but his part is wholly believable. Signs and Wonders weaves together what is said and what is shown into a cogent whole. The background is as deliberate as the dialogue and tells its own important story. Smart, sophisticated and totally aware of the world cultural and political stage. This movie brings together social and personal crisis and resolves them the way these things are always resolved, with tragedy.

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