Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle The Red Dwarf

By Steve Davis

AUGUST 30, 1999: 

D: Yvan Le Moine; with Jean-Yves Thual, Anita Ekberg, Dyna Gauzy, Arno Chevrier, Michel Peyrelon, Carlo Colombaioni. (Not Rated, 104 min.)

The Red Dwarf pretends to lofty themes -- something about life's cruelty, lust's fickleness, love's redemption -- but it's just a freak show at its twisted heart. Why else would it ridicule the zaftig Anita Ekberg in the underwritten role of an overweight, oversexed grotesque? The Red Dwarf is no dip in Trevi Fountain for the once statuesque beauty; there's a calculated purpose in her presence, and it isn't flattering. (Director-screenwriter Le Moine might as well have cast a drag queen with no personality in the role.) This Belgian film about a lonely, diminutive man, who leads a tormented existence, follows a convoluted path to a cryptic ending hardly worth the wait. Lucien Lhotte is a little guy with a big chip on his shoulder. He is unappreciated in his job at a law firm; his social life is nonexistent. When an improbable affair with an opera diva ends like a Charles Ludlam melodrama -- Lhotte dons a wig and full makeup before murdering his beloved -- his life starts coming apart at the seams. Soon, he gives his termination notice at work by defecating on his boss' desk, and then joins a traveling circus to perform as a height-challenged clown in an act with a Gerard Depardieu look-alike. During this time, Lhotte drinks and whores a lot, but he ultimately finds a sense of peace in his friendship with an innocent young girl in the troupe. (Their relationship is a little creepy, if you think about it too much.) The Red Dwarf is enticingly shot in black-and-white, but its cinematography can't mask the film's affectations. Perhaps Le Moine aspires to tread where Fellini or Lynch or Jodorowsky have gone -- both successfully and unsuccessfully -- but he hasn't the artistic weight to carry off this film as a dark comedy of human experience. Instead, he's offered a sideshow masquerading as a morality tale. In the end, The Red Dwarf never gets past the impulse to showcase the oddity, an urge that stunts its growth.

1 Star

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