Knowing when to say when
The heroin addiction film must be absolutely mouthwatering to those who make movies; it's a topic teeming with the downward spirals and the phoenix-like redemptions that can fuel compelling drama. But for those who watch movies, two deadly problems plague this overdone genre: depictions of self-medication gone awry are no fun at all (Trainspotting being an obvious exception), and it's tough to elicit compassion for anyone cocky enough to think that they're immune to enslavement by drugs. Truthfully, the clichés recycled for nearly every junkie flick would be totally laughable if the subject matter weren't so tragic and real.
Candy, the latest formulaic portrait of the lows and really lows of dope dependency, hails from Australia and could best be described as the Down Under version of Darren Aronofsky'sRequiem for a Dream, minus Requiem's stylish commitment to filth and nihilism. Abbie Cornish (A Good Year) plays the title character, and as the film opens, Candy is making the move from snorting smack to mainlining it like boyfriend Dan (Heath Ledger, BrokebackMountain). "I wasn't trying to wreck Candy's life; I was trying to make mine better," Dan tells us in wistful voiceover, but when languid days in bed and wild trips through the car wash give way to screwing strangers for cash, it's clear he's achieved the former rather than the latter.
What follows is the time-honored trajectory of debasement, bitterness, and methadone, and Candy has nothing revelatory to say about any of it. Naturally, there are helpless parents, possible salvation in the form of a pregnancy, and a flamboyant, scene-stealing drug dealer (Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush) given to sage observations like "When you can stop, you don't want to. When you want to stop, you can't." Candy is basically one of those indie opportunities for the young, pretty, and critically acclaimed to turn in gritty performances as young and still suspiciously pretty screw-ups.
He's sporting his stringy 10 Things I Hate About You hair and his eyes continue to be too close together, but the reluctantly charismatic Heath Ledger is what makes Candy palatable. Playing a desperate junkie without resorting to overacting is that rarest of birds, and Ledger channels his hopelessness into quiet, whether he's in a narcotic fog, silently wrestling with his guilt over ruining the woman he claims to love, or devising a plan to cop. Ledger traveled down the thorny Hollywood path before pulling back for lovely performances in Monster's Ball and Brokeback Mountain, and he's simply too graceful to be a mainstream leading man.
Less successful is Abbie Cornish, whose shrill and aloof performance as the admittedly blameless Candy completely undermines any sympathy we want to feel for her. She first gained stateside attention in 2004's irritating coming-of-age tale Somersault and will appear in next year's The Golden Age, ShekharKapur's sequel to Elizabeth which focuses on the relationship between The Virgin Queen (CateBlanchett reprises her Oscar-nominated role) and Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen). So with Blanchett, Owen, Geoffrey Rush playing Sir Francis Walsingham again, and Samantha Morton as Mary, Queen of Scots, Cornish will need to bring something more to the table than a button nose and willingness to unclothe.
Look up the phrase "art house film" in the dictionary and you're likely to find Climates, the new movie from award-winning Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan. It's a leisurely meditation on both togetherness and isolation told through the denouement of the relationship between architecture professor Isa, played by Ceylan, and his younger girlfriend Bahar (EbruCeylan, the filmmaker's wife). It's not clear what led to the union's demise, but the distance between Isa and Bahar, even when close together, confirms that it's time to part. Isa will fall back into the orbit of a former lover and then decide, through abject selfishness or genuine regret, that he wants Bahar back. But Bahar knows the difference, as do we. Isa might not.
Climates is a rather slight piece, but anyone who has dealt with a breakup (i.e., everyone) will recognize certain truths, especially the wordless introspection, which, unsurprisingly, does not make for thrilling cinema. Fortunately, Climates is beautifully shot, the film opening at the sunny beach and finishing in the snowy remotes, with a rough, funny, and cleverly filmed sex scene between Isa and Serap, his one-time mistress, squarely in the middle. Despite long stretches of silence --- no dialogue, no score --- Ceylan, who also wrote the film, recognizes that something's going on even when nothing's happening.
Candy (R), directed by Neil Armfield, and Climates (NR), directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, both open Friday, December 15, at Little Theatres.