Art Of Seduction

Movie Review by Mark Bayross

Starring: Ray Liotta, Andie MacDowell, Matt Dillon, Scott Glenn, Juliette Binoche
Directors: Kisti Zea, Walter Bernstein, Mike Figgis

Originally made in 1991 and broadcast on US television, this trilogy of short films is now available to buy on DVD and video. The three films bring together a sextet of Hollywood actors with well-known American authors and directors.

Irwin Shaw’s RETURN TO KANSAS CITY stars Matt Dillon as promising young boxer Eddie Megeffin whose wife Arlene (Kyra Sedgwick) feels neglected on account of his rigorous training schedule. Arlene has trouble adjusting to life in New York and longs for the familiarity of Kansas City, where she grew up. While Eddie’s career strategy is one of discipline and slow, steady development, his wife puts pressure on him to up his earnings by agreeing to fight a championship contender that Eddie knows is currently out of his league, just so she can afford another trip home.

Set in 1939, there is a sense of film noir atmosphere, further emphasised by the theme and the detail of the main characters’ humble surroundings. Both leads fare well, Dillon especially, but the shortness of the story, and the fact that almost all of the action takes place in the couple’s apartment, gives you the impression of watching a play, rather than a film. Cameo-spotters will have fun, though: Jane Krakowski from ALLY MCBEAL and Jerry Stiller, George’s Dad in SEINFELD, both make a brief appearance.

The second film, written by Carson McCullers, is A DOMESTIC DILEMMA. Produced by Jonathan Demme and directed by Kisti Zea, it stars Ray Liotta as Martin Meadows, an advertising executive whose comfortable suburban life and picture-perfect family are threatened by his wife Emily’s (played by Andie MacDowell) alcoholism. Unable to trust her alone with the kids, and haunted by the implications of where her addiction may lead, he is torn by his need to protect his family and his love for his wife.

Like the film before it, this is set in mid-20 th century New York, and there is a similar sepia tint to the setting. While not exactly original, the story does allow Liotta to do what he does best – simmer with barely controlled rage – while displaying ‘Father of the Year’ softness with his kids, and it’s good to see Andie MacDowell cast against type as the unpredictable and unhinged wife.

The final story, MARA, is the most intriguing of the three. Written by Henry Miller and directed by Mike Figgis, it differs from the other films in that it is set in present day Paris – the blue hues and neon lights of the city set this instalment completely apart. A prostitute (the Mara of the title, played by doe-eyed Juliette Binoche) is helped and befriended by Henry, an American writer (coincidence, huh?) played by Scott Glenn. Mara is overwhelmed by Henry’s kindness towards her, and he is bewitched by her charm and beauty, but both know their time together will only be fleeting.

While not without its cliches (rich Parisians waste no time in sneering disgustedly when Henry brings Mara into a posh restaurant), this is an interesting story, as the motives behind Henry’s generosity and warmth stem from more than just compassion – he fights hard to stop himself falling for her.

The acting is superb. Scott Glenn’s Henry is a lonely, wary outsider in Paris, enchanted by Mara and appalled by her situation, while Juliette Binoche is outstanding, portraying the tart-with-the-heart with emotional fragility and unapologetic defiance in equal measure. Given the short running time, Binoche’s intense performance is further testament to her talent.

Quite why this trilogy has been christened THE ART OF SEDUCTION is beyond me. All three stories have a strong thematic link – love comes at a price. I can only assume that the title was chosen in an attempt to shift more units.

DVD EXTRAS:

Moving menus for each film
Moving main menu chapter selection
Filmography, biography and trivia for all main cast members
Trailer
Aspect ratio 4:3

4 out of 6 stars

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