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Apartment Zero' (R)

By Desson Howe
November 03, 1989

"WE'RE ALL entitled to one or two . . . hundred idiosyncrasies," says Adrian Le Duc, a lip-quivering Brit who's repressed to the point of discomfort.

He's telling Jack Carney, his new, mysterious flatmate, he's prepared to accept him at any cost. But Adrian's also confessing to his uptight ways and implicitly stating the theme of Martin Donovan's "Apartment Zero," a brilliantly crafted psychological drama set in Argentina with at least two hundred marvelous idiosyncrasies of its own.

Unlike the sensation-a-minute velocity of Hollywood's linear-scripted, agent-negotiated star shows, "Zero's" momentum comes from a subtly menacing accumulation. When cine-club proprietor Adrian (Colin Firth) -- whose only friends are the movie-star portraits festooning his apartment -- takes in boarder Jack (Hart Bochner), he thinks he's found the solution to his existential loneliness. Jack is everything Adrian is not: walking-surfboard handsome, confident and consoling.

But things take a turn for the strange. Jack starts befriending the neighbors -- a bunch of morbidly curious busybodies, as far as Adrian is concerned; Jack's work schedule seems erratic; and out in the streets of Buenos Aires, bloodied political corpses are piling up.

Donovan, co-scripting with David Koepp, not only builds an eerily affecting relationship between the two (things get even weirder), he also revels wittily -- and creepily -- in the incidentals: "Zero's" subsidiary characters are so richly (and darkly) conceived, they could spin off into movies of their own. Adrian's invalid mother is wasting away horribly in an asylum run by nuns; a sultry, lonely neighbor makes doe-eyed advances to Jack; and the tea-and-crumpet gargoyle-featured spinsters (Liz Smith and Dora Bryan) who snoop the corridors are a scream -- perhaps Donovan learned a casting thing or two from Federico Fellini after appearing in the Italian director's bawdy "Fellini Satyricon."

"We're not used to gallantry any more," says grateful spinster Smith with the air of someone used to a lifetime of dashing suitors -- this after Jack has retrieved her kitten from a precarious ledge.

Perhaps derailed by the force of his own originality, or possibly suffering from novice's overdrive, Donovan loosens his grip somewhat during "Zero's" final act. But the sardonic, gruesome conclusion is nonetheless entertaining; a minor skid for Donovan is sure-driving for too many others, and by that time you've felt already "Zero's" full impact

Copyright The Washington Post

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