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By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 22, 1993


Louis Malle
Jeremy Irons;
Juliette Binoche;
Miranda Richardson;
Rupert Graves;
Leslie Caron;
Ian Bannen
profanity, nudity and sexual situations

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"Damage," a London-set film fatale by Louis Malle, is yet another cautionary tale on the consequences of slipping out of one's woolens with a woman who isn't one's wife. Despite the threatened NC-17 rating, there's nothing remotely sexy about this stone-cold escapade. It only reaffirms the stodgy reputation of the British, who think hot to trot means let's go fox hunting.

Jeremy Irons, gaunt as a wicket, brings his trademark torturedness to the role of a 50-year-old member of Parliament who gets a snootful of Juliette Binoche's pheromones and is never the same again. Though she is already involved with his son (Rupert Graves), Binoche gives herself to the bony parliamentarian, who takes her, fully clothed, without a word.

Binoche, who lies there with her arms outstretched as if crucified, aims to be Saint Victoria of the Secret. She is immolated by thorny passion in her lacy underthings. The girl can't help it; men want her, including her brother, who killed himself because he couldn't have her.

Irons, who resembles one of those fashionable sex addicts in an Obsession perfume ad, doesn't hear the dire hints she lets fall like Eden's big delicious apples: "Remember, damaged people are dangerous. They know how to survive." He persists in this fatal attraction, an increasingly acrobatic fling certain to result in orthopedic problems in future, not to mention social ruin.

The consequences are dire too for his wife (Miranda Richardson), who leaves him to wander about southern Europe like the Ancient Mariner of sex, his hot memories hanging heavy around his neck. And the son? Suffice it to say he never rises. Malle, whose French-language film "The Lovers" had a similarly controversial reception here in the '60s, plows no new ground in bringing the best-selling novel by Josephine Hart to the screen. Soullessly adapted by British playwright David Hare, it's a dark tragedy made frivolous, a story of subliminal incestuousness that only glancingly addresses the competition between father and son. The characters, sketchy and bland for all their possibilities, are not enigmatic, just unknowable for all the actors' attempts to develop them.

Irons, who has suffered through similar agonies as "Swann in Love," and Binoche, who endured her husband's philandering in "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," don't seem quite so much like lovers as tag-team wrestlers. Richardson, who ached with fatal passion in "Dance With a Stranger," puts a little flesh on the bones of the wife's character -- not that we'd ever empathize with her.

The film also features Leslie Caron, who attempts to warn off Irons in a loopy cameo as the minx's mom, and the liver-spotted Ian Bannen, as Richardson's father, who is also attracted to Binoche. It sounds like incest a go-go but it's just "Body of Evidence" in stiff upper lipstick. All sex, no sizzle.

"Damage" is rated R for profanity, nudity and sexual situations.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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