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Simone

Gen-X-Review-Simone-2002Imitation isn’t always flattery.


Sometimes it’s the worst sort of narcissistic drivel, repetitive slop, a kind of pornography: Images reproduced to satisfy a desire for power, not love. Women have often been the screen men project their desires for power onto. No one looks for tenderness in Les Demoiselles d’Avig-non -- and for good reason -- and its rare to find a misogynist of Picasso’s genius.


Porn might seem perfect, but it ain’t art, son.


Simone is a film about power, not love, and it replicates the ugliness of its characters in the very structure of the narrative. It depicts an ugly, superficial world of ugly, superficial people, epitomized by its main character, director Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino).


Viktor pretends to be an artist with a great capacity for human suffering. He writes and directs black-and-white art house films and seems out of place in a modern Hollywood devoted to big-budget blockbusters. When the lead actress on his new film walks off the set, leaving the production company no choice but to shelve the picture, Viktor feels like his art has been undermined from within.


There’s no reasoning with the star’s outrageous demands and Viktor is later fired because the head of the production company, Viktor’s ex-wife Elaine (Catherine Keener), doesn’t believe any top-notch actors  would want to work with him after the blowup. People are messy, unpredictable, irrational and emotional-- they just can’t be trusted to collaborate on great art.


On his way out of the studio for the last time Viktor meets Hank Aleno (Elias Koteas), a computer genius dying of an eye tumor from staring too long into his computer monitor. Hank tries to sell Viktor on using computer-generated actors in his film, but the director still believes he can cast another starlet in the lead role and release his film independently.


After being rejected by every actress on the West Coast and hounded by bill collectors, the idea of a computer-generated star seems more reasonable to Viktor. Hank dies and wills a state-of-the-art computer program to the director and months later the film is released staring Simone, a stunning blond unknown. Simone is, of course, computer-generated.


The rest of the film has Viktor performing various tiresome Jerry Lewis-like routines, like driving a Simone mannequin on the Los Angeles freeway to prove her existence to Catherine, using a Barbie doll to create a shadow puppet of the actress, kissing publicity photos in an effort to keep his ruse going. It’s like a Walt Disney film written by the repugnant French sociologist Jean Baudrillard.


Artificial intelligence? Hardly.


Simone is merely a manifestation of Viktor’s misogyny. He controls her every move, making her crawl on all fours in a pig sty to “punish” her for her success and perform nude scenes on demand. She is woman perfected for the little creep, a impeccable robot who acts out every duty he assigns her. All his pent up frustrations at having to deal with powerful females are unleashed on Simone -- but the film sidesteps the idea that the failed director might have a problem with women, the only “real” issue in the movie.


Viktor is sick, the kind of petty freak who gropes girls while hiding in the anoniminity of a large crowd. His borderline multiple personality disorder is supposed to be funny, I guess, but it leaves me feeling icky, as though I’ve stepped in something I wished didn’t exist.


The film’s relentless use of cutesy dialog and puns is tedious at best, and obnoxious at worst. But what’s really grating is the self-congratulatory tone of the film, its self-conscious cleverness, which often sounds like something that was spit out by the postmodern generator (see: www.cs.monash.edu.au/cgi-bin/postmodern). “I am the death of the real,” Simone blathers.


Um huh, sure.


The primary conceit of the film is that we are held hostage by our fascination with images. Reality is passé, full of troubling details. Simone is a classic Frankenstien monster, stitched together with a desire to control and dominate the image. God might have created flesh, but so what? Humans can be replaced by eternal images, right?


Images only have power when they correlate to the real, when they touch us, force us to examine ourselves in new ways. Simone cannot be the source of human emotions, she can only replicate them, so it’s impossible to emphasize with her. The film just rings false.


Simone -- the movie -- illustrates this point well. It’s purely an intellectual exercise with cliche characters, forced pixilated dialog and no connection to true human emotions. It’s an utter failure as a piece of art because it doesn’t attempt to recognize and replicate a true thing. It is a spectral image, a kind of shallow hallucination.


Simone lacks the integrity of a good fake.

 

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