THE TRUMAN SHOW

Directed by Peter Weir

***1/2

Seen June 6th, at the Sony Theaters on 3rd Ave. & 11th St.

The tidal wave of hype that preceded THE TRUMAN SHOW isn't doing it any favors. It's far from a masterpiece, much less the "film of the decade," but it's a Hollywood film with a distinctive visual style and plenty to say about the world we live in. If this weren't the season of blockbusters, that ought to be enough.

Paul Bartel's 60s short THE SECRET CINEMA may be one of the (unacknowledged) sources of THE TRUMAN SHOW, but it reminded me most of the novels of Phillip K. Dick. Like many of Dick's protagonists, Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) lives in a synthetic world; the island where lives, Seahaven, is actually a gigantic studio designed to enable his life to be filmed as a live TV show. Cracks are starting to appear in the facade of Seahaven, and he gradually realizes that he's living a phony existence.

The plot may not be particularly original, but Weir does find a style to match it. By using irises of odd angles to capture the P.O.V. of the 5,000 cameras planted on Seahaven, he manages to make THE TRUMAN SHOW simultaneously look like a TV show and convey an expressionist paranoia. Carrey comes as close to subtlety as he ever has, which may not sound like much of a compliment, but he manages to simultaneously act like someone whose view of life has been formed by living in a sitcom and suggest an underlying, genuine innocence and sweetness.

As a film about celebrity, THE TRUMAN SHOW doesn't say anything particularly new. (After Princess Diana's death, didn't we hear millions of times about the media's invasion of celebrity's private lives?) But it's still a particularly resonant nightmare. Every time another politician sings the praises of small-town values, the dystopian vision of Seahaven, where every home is painted the same color and the daily paper runs headlines like "Who needs Europe?," looms closer. The film's real horror lies as much in this vision of small-town conformity taken to the extreme as in the idea of a life co-opted by TV.


SEE THE SEA

Directed by François Ozon

***

Seen June 7th, at the New Festival

The audience at the New Festival (New York's lesbian and gay film festival) greeted the ending of SEE THE SEA with a mixture of boos and cheers, and I overheard plenty of comments along the lines of "That was really well-made, but you couldn't get me to sit through it again." Not bad for a film with no onscreen violence that mostly consists of 2 women sitting around in beautiful locations.

SEE THE SEA follows an Englishwoman, Sasha, on vacation, alone with a 10-month-old daughter Siofra. She's living in an isolated house in the north of France; her husband is stuck behind in Paris on work.After not having heard from him in several days, she's bored, lonely and sexually frustrated. Consequently, she welcomes a visit from a teenage backpacker, Tatiana, who asks permission to set up camp in the backyard. Unfortunately, it eventually becomes apparent that Tatiana is a pathologically jealous female counterpart to FUNNY GAMES' Peter and Paul.

SEE THE SEA is a different kind of horror film, where the horror comes not from a killer with a hockey mask but from "loneliness cranked up to 10," as a Pulp lyric puts it. Ozon does an excellent job of evoking the pathos of a pleasureless vacation. The beach where Sasha and Tatiana go is both beautiful and creepy, as is the forest overlooking it, where gay men cruise and have sex. The 52-minute feature is preceded by a relatively cheerful short, A SUMMER DRESS, which tracks the bisexual adventures of a young man on vacation. The two films fit together dialectically; the somber SEE THE SEA turns A SUMMER DRESS' playfulness about identity and desire on its head. It isn't particularly pleasant to watch, but it suggests that Ozon may be a new Polanski. His first feature, SITCOM, wasn't well received at Cannes last month, but SEE THE SEA is quite a calling card.