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'Dot' Puts the 'I' in Bizarre

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 18, 2005; Page WE46

A DECEPTIVELY familiar story of a love triangle with one killer twist ending, "dot the i" satisfies and disturbs in just about equal measure. In other words, in the way it shamelessly teases and disappoints our expectations, it's as cruelly acidic as it is mushily romantic, which may leave you, dear viewer, strangely squeezed into a new, though not entirely uncomfortable, position.

Isn't that what movies are supposed to do: Turn you upside down and drive your head into the mat? Maybe I'm thinking of professional wrestling.

A kiss between Carmen (Natalia Verbeke) and Kit (Gael Garcia Bernal) becomes more than just a kiss in the romantic thriller "dot the i." (Summit Entertainment)

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In the first two corners of this bizarre love triangle, we have Carmen (Natalia Verbeke), an emotionally volatile beauty on the run from an abusive boyfriend in Madrid, and her wealthy English fiance, Barnaby (James D'Arcy). Entering corner No. 3, as luck would have it, smack dab in the middle of Carmen's "hen" (or bachelorette) party at a fancy French restaurant, is Kit (Gael Garcia Bernal), a handsome yet underemployed stranger who has been making ends meet lately by handing out fast-food coupons dressed in a chicken suit. When Carmen and the scruffy but handsome Kit kiss, in the traditional bride-to-be's farewell to the world of dating, it's suddenly like there's super glue on their lips. What should have been a quick peck and then back to dinner becomes a torrid, long-lasting lip lock that completely flummoxes the two participants. When she comes up for air, Carmen is not so sure that her intended (Barnaby who?) is the one after all, while Kit becomes increasingly convinced that Carmen is.

At least that the way the movie, written and directed with devilish cleverness by Matthew Parkhill, seems to play it.

Something else is clearly going on here, only it's not immediately apparent what that something is. Intercutting his film footage of Carmen, as she embarks on her surreptitious affair, with snippets of what looks like surveillance videotape and what sounds like heavy male breathing, Parkhill quickly creates the sense that someone is watching our heroine. Parkhill's technique is creepily effective, made all the creepier by the fact that the watcher could be anyone: the newly Carmen-obsessed Kit, who seems to never leave home without his mini DV camera; Barnaby, the spurned and jealous fiance; or Carmen's as-yet-unnamed former lover, who we already know has left his mark on her in a disfiguring acid attack.

Right up until the end, Parkhill leaves us off-balance and guessing, not only about who will end up with the girl, but about whether that's even the point.

That's because the filmmaker is ultimately less concerned with his love story than he is with the idea of how love stories are told, particularly in this day and age of such heartstring-toying staples of reality television as "Temptation Island" and "Joe Millionaire." "Dot the i" is a meta-movie, a movie about movies as much as emotions. That's why it simultaneously feels ice cold and blood hot.

Quoting Kevin Spacey from the darkly comic Hollywood-set revenge fantasy, "Swimming With Sharks," one of Kit's friends wryly reminds Kit at one point that "Life is not a movie. Everyone lies. Good guys lose. And love does not conquer all."

It's a good description of "dot the i," a movie in which life is, in fact, a movie, and one complex (and honest) enough to acknowledge that sometimes love isn't enough to triumph by itself -- at least not when it comes to telling a rip-roaring yarn. When it comes to the postmodern love story, Cupid and his arrows won't cut it these days. The kid might occasionally need a little help from cold, hard cunning . . . and a camera.

DOT THE I (R, 91 minutes) -- Contains obscenity, a steamy bedroom scene or two, and violence. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.

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