Chromophobia

on May 21, 2005 by Sheri Linden
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Ostensibly a dark comic drama about crisscrossing lives in contemporary London, "Chromophobia" loses its train of thought -- assuming it had one -- somewhere in the early going, never to recover. The ensemble cast, impressive on paper, is merely serviceable as characters whose familiar neuroses, ambitions and secrets play out with no sense of urgency, let alone rhyme or reason. What begins as a satiric, if hardly earth-shattering, look at modern mores and alienation devolves into an unfocused tale involving corruption in high places. The British film closes this year's Festival de Cannes on a decidedly anticlimactic note.

The fulcrum of the story's wheel of fortune is Marcus Aylesbury (Damian Lewis, seen to much better effect in Lodge Kerrigan's "Keane," screening in Cannes' Directors Fortnight). He's just been made partner at a prestigious law firm, but for all his success at the office, discontent reigns at his ultra-sleek museum of a house. Iona (Kristin Scott Thomas), his art-dealer wife who compulsively uses shopping, therapy and personal training in her joyless search for self-realization, has chosen breast enlargement as her next project. Their young son understandably acts out with dead birds and cans of spray paint, while his godfather (Ralph Fiennes), a gentle to the point of angelic art specialist, winds up in a coma after befriending the wrong schoolboys. By far the least convincing subplot -- and nothing in the film quite convinces -- involves a cop-turned-social-worker (Rhys Ifans) and his client, a call girl and single mother (Penelope Cruz, almost as uglified as in "Don't Move") with a connection to Marcus' judge father (Ian Holm). Bringing it all to an intended boil is ambitious journalist Trent (Ben Chaplin), who takes an avid but underhanded interest in his old friend Marcus' drunken complaints about shady deals at work.

Director Martha Fiennes showed a much surer grasp of the helm in her feature debut, "Onegin." Here, working from her own script (with additional material by d.p. George Tiffin), she orchestrates the story with an airless precision when a bit of oxygen might have ignited a lifelike moment or two. "Chromophobia," whose title refers to an abstract plasma-screen art installation and has as little significance as anything in the film, plays like an inferior cable offering. Starring Ben Chaplin, Damian Lewis, Penelope Cruz, Kristin Scott Thomas, Rhys Ifans, Ralph Fiennes and Ian Holm. Directed and written by Martha Fiennes. Produced by Tarak Ben Ammar and Ron Rotholz. No distributor set. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 137 min

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