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Buffalo '66

By Ray Pride

AUGUST 10, 1998: 

Everything old is new again. There are flashes of the French New Wave, of the 1970s Hollywood Renaissance, of high art-school affectation in Vincent Gallo's gorgeous, grating, idiosyncratic written-directed-composed-starring "Buffalo '66," a comedy of alienation about a just-released con's first visit home. It was one of the more compelling pieces of filmmaking at Sundance this year, relentlessly innovative and empathetic, tempting absurdity to attain flashes of brilliance. Gallo drinks deeply of the vanity of no-vanity, presenting his Billy as a self-mesmerized, narcissistic mess. The film also boasts one of Christina Ricci's mesmerizing performances as a plush sexpot from the wrong side of the wrong side of the tracks. Gallo's discomfiting performance as a man uncomfortable in his own skin, a control freak whose life is utterly out of his control, even when he kidnaps Layla, a young tap-dancing student (Ricci), to pass off as his wife to his uncaring parents, Buffalo Bills-obsessed Anjelica Huston and chronic liar Ben Gazzara. What can this blue-eye-shadowed kid do in Gallo's kitchen-sink fairytale but fall in love with him? The neediest of matted-down rat-dog hurt-boys who demands, "Do not touch me!" when she shows gentle affection? Among the stylized highlights are Ricci's fantasy tapdance in a bowling alley and the rules of engagement in a series of photobooth photos that fluster Billy to no end. But toward the story's strange, pretentious and superb conclusion, there is a moment that encapsulates all of Gallo's ambitious, emotionally naked, sumptuously designed work. A series of tentative touches across a motel room bed produce only one possible result: crawling into a fetal ball in the Madonna-whore-girl-child-woman's arms. Billy is damaged goods; how can he change? How can he learn to touch, to hold?


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