High Art

High Art


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

It is the unspoken that speaks loudest in Lisa Cholodenko's impressive first feature. The writing is lean and sharp, never self-conciously witty, and the performances have a naturalistic ease that create an atmosphere of muted tension, allowing an erotic vibe to permeate. Syd (Radha Mitchell) works for a glossy, fashionable New York photography magazine. She's young and eager and still uses undergraduate phraseology to explain what art means. She's an assistant editor - euphemism for dogsbody - and lives with her boyfriend, James, in an uncluttered, characterless apartment. He cooks and reads in bed. She talks to herself, thinking she's talking to him.

Upstairs, at Lucy Berliner's place, there's a whole other scene happening. The emphasis is on drug ingestion and lesbian languor. Lucy (Ally Sheedy) is a photographer, who gave up commercial work 10 years ago at the point when her career was being noticed. Her lover, Greta (Patricia Clarkson), a German actress who was part of Fassbinder's circle is too strung out to string sentences together. Lucy compensates. Her mother calls her passive. Others might find her intelligence inquisitive.

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Syd becomes involved with this crowd, so refreshing after James' naggy little criticisms. She admires Lucy's pictures and encourages her to do a cover for the magazine. This leads inevitably to infatuation and a revival of Lucy's interest in the unposed pose, her personal trademark, photography as foreplay.

Cholodenko has captured the moment between two lovers when good stuff hasn't really started and bad stuff won't go away. Mitchell is Australian, although you wouldn't guess it from her accent. She appears more vulnerable than the others, more capable of expressing emotional confusion. Sheedy has a strong face. She seems capable, even when Lucy is not. Syd's fascination is understandable. Clarkson, on the other hand, could be Dietrich on mescalin. She's out of this world, both literally and metaphorically. Cholodenko has a gift for saying little and implying much. Her script has been bared to the bone, leaving muscle, sinew and heartache.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Love blossoms, when a young unhappy-in-love assistant editor begins to fall for the woman upstairs.
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Director: Lisa Cholodenko

Writer: Lisa Cholodenko

Starring: Ally Sheedy, Radha Mitchell, Patricia Clarkson, Bill Sage

Year: 1998

Runtime: 101 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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