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‘Chain of Desire’

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 13, 1993


Temistocles Lopez
Linda Fiorentino;
Elias Koteas;
Malcolm McDowell;
Tim Guinee;
Grace Zabriskie
Not rated

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"Chain of Desire" is an odd mix: an American update of Max Ophuls's "The Circle," a sexual "Slackers" and an MTV-style public service announcement on AIDS stretched out to 105 minutes of tragicomedy with a heavy-handed message that works emotionally, but not at all logically.

Writer-director Temistocles Lopez has fashioned the first film that traces sexual contacts. In a languorously evolving series of vignettes, one lover moves on to the next, who in turn moves on to the next, and so on and so on. There is no direct connection between, say, Lover One and Lover Three and Lover Nine, except that they all live in New York and, despite being a seemingly disparate bunch of stereotypes, they all end up at an obviously trendy club to catch a performance by chanteuse Linda Fiorentino (a deadly experience in itself).

It's Fiorentino who gets the ball rolling, so to speak. To get away from a former lover who insists on seeing her, she seeks refuge in a church, but finds solace instead with a studly Latino worker (Elias Koteas), who later goes home to his beautiful wife (Angel Aviles) who in the morning goes to work for a foot-fetishist doctor (Patrick Bauchau) who is having an affair with a dominatrix (Grace Zabriskie) whose apathetic workaholic husband (Malcolm McDowell) engages a teenage hustler (Jamie Harrold) who ...

And so it goes, through eight more encounters, until everyone ends up at the club and we overhear Fiorentino's old lover tell her over the phone that he's been given a diagnosis of AIDS. Cue to a dreadful confessional song, "A Stranger on Earth," followed by strobe lights and pulsating beats as bacchanalia reigns again. The end for some is just a few years down the road.

Ophuls's film was based on Arthur Schnitzler's turn-of-the-century play "Reigen," and the social circle that framed those works naturally lacked the fatal peril of modern sex. But Lopez's own circle is not unbroken: While some people are still having sex, more than half the folks in this particular chain never engage in physical sex with their partner, so Lopez's caution is curiously diluted. More curious is the gulf between desire and satisfaction, need and fulfillment.

These may be the beautiful swingers of New York, but they are a decidedly unhappy bunch of campers. The encounters don't really work as parables of lust or loneliness since the film's structure prevents the viewer from making anything more than quick, casual contact with any of the characters. Not that several don't make an impression: Seymour Cassel as a famous philandering artist and Assumpta Serna as his hot-blooded, coolly vengeful wife make for a curious but watchable couple, as do Koteas and Aviles. But in trying to create a democracy of victims who casually cross sexual, ethnic and economic lines, Lopez ends up creating unamusing comedy and unmoving tragedy. As an erotic morality play, it's about as convincing as Madonna's last record.

"Chain of Desire" is unrated and contains some nudity.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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