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Who Gives A Figgis?

[whitespace] The Loss of Sexual Innocence
Mike Figgis

Losing It: The temptations of the flesh are too much for Julian Sands and Johanna Torrel.

Mike Figgis' 'The Loss of Sexual Innocence' goes way beyond comprehension

By Richard von Busack

Mike figgis' 1994 hit, Leaving Las Vegas, expertly shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm, was a beautifully unlikely independent film. In his newest movie, Figgis goes completely beyond the bounds of common sense. Directed, written and co-produced by Figgis, The Loss of Sexual Innocence is the sort of film no mere director can make; it takes a rapt visionary to go off into the underbrush like this.

The main character in The Loss of Sexual Innocence is a film director in a sexually frustrated marriage. In flashbacks, Nic (played in adulthood by Julian Sands) is seen in his youth as a colonist in Kenya, spying on an African girl in her torn underwear. He's followed to childhood and adolescence in the red-brick city of Carlisle in England of the '50s.

In the present day, Nic has a sleek car, a cottage in the country and an unhappy blonde wife. Eventually, Nic, a cameraman, a soundman and an actress all go to Tangiers to select a film location. There in the desert, one of the most absurd circumstances in the history of the cinema brings death.

The Loss of Sexual Innocence is as all over the map as Texas. After long and portentous blackouts, two other stories unfold: an Italian actress (Saffron Burrows) later hired by Nic meets her long-lost twin at an airport--the story has no payoff, except to tell us "Isn't fate capricious?" The third story is the legend of Adam and Eve (Femi Ogumbanjo and Hanne Klintoe), staged in a post-apocalyptic setting in a muddy lake next to a trashed, bombed-out villa. The two, finding a fig[gis?] tree, gorge on the fruit and become noisomely sick. When they awake from their sickness, still covered with vomit, they become aware of their nakedness.

At the end of the episode, they're turned out of the gates of the Edenic villa in a rainstorm, escorted by helicopters and security guards. "Ode to Joy" thunders on the soundtrack (why?) and a neon-blue cross flashes on to warn them against returning, as paparazzi photograph their shame.

Maybe I object to Figgis' too-simple interpretation of the story of the Fall of Man--in discovering sex, we discover death. But hasn't sex always been the way back into the Garden, if only for a moment? I'm sure Adam and Eve were thrown out for some other offense, disobedience or something. (Who can fathom the ways of a landlord?) Figgis' use of deliberately post-apocalyptic imagery recalls bad science fiction. The decision is worsened by his kitschy casting. Though it was smart to have a black Adam and a white Eve, why a black muscleman and a starveling waif fashion model? And what about the paparazzi waiting for them at the Gates of Eden? Only a moviemaker could relate to this metaphor--who else is harassed by paparazzi?

An early scene is a definite keeper: Nic silently makes out with a girl in a suburban British living room in the 1950s. The couple is interrupted by her father, who is oblivious to the couple, as if he's unaware that he interrupted them.

In this scene, Figgis gets that uncoy intimacy that made Leaving Las Vegas so fine. But the rest of The Loss of Sexual Innocence is a tangle that viewers have to sort out as they please. Match the po-mo Adam and Eve with the English school lad discovering sex and death, and then match it with the big slice of Paul Bowles in the desert that wraps it up.

Are those blue Bedouins at the end--faceless killers--the agents of the Lord, punishing Nic for his transgression? Why does the cross, symbol of man's salvation, appear to Adam and Eve as a warning sign? And why is it neon? Really, what the hell is going on in this movie?

The Loss of Sexual Innocence (R; 106 min.), directed and written by Mike Figgis and starring Julian Sands, open mid-June at selected theaters.

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From the June 7, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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