From the Chicago Reader (July 23, 1999). — J.R.
It’s not at all surprising that Abel Ferrara’s most recent feature (1998) has failed to find an American distributor or that some of his most eloquent defenders have labeled this transgressive adaptation of a William Gibson story the collapse of a major talent. A murky and improbable tale about prostitution, industrial espionage, and manufactured viruses, it works on the very edge of coherence even before the final 20 minutes or so, during which earlier portions of the film are replayed with minor variations and additions. On the other hand, few American films in recent years have been so beautifully composed and color coordinated shot by shot, and the overall experience of an opium dream is so intense that you might stop making demands of the narrative once you realize that none of the usual genre expectations is going to be met. Almost all the principal action occurs offscreen, and most of Ferrara and Christ Zois’s script concentrates on scenes between a corporate raider named Fox (Christopher Walken); his deputy, X (Willem Dafoe); and Sandii (Asia Argento, daughter of cult horror director Dario Argento), an Italian prostitute hired to seduce a Japanese scientist. Recurring aerial shots of unidentified cities and a good many dimly lit interiors alternate with grainy video-surveillance images to create the visual equivalent of a multinational labyrinth in which you might easily lose yourself. Ferrara’s previous feature, The Blackout — also unseen in the U.S., and brutally yanked from the Film Center’s Ferrara retrospective by a new distributor that still has no release plans for it — is an equally beautiful film object in some ways, though I found its story rather banal; New Rose Hotel doesn’t have enough of a story to share that problem. Coproduced by Walken and Dafoe, it’s too far off the beaten path to please most audiences, but I find its decadent erotic poetry irresistible. Apparently this is the U.S. premiere. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, July 23, 6:00 and 8:00, 312-443-3737.