No sooner has Jessie, the assassin, returned to her apartment than the film introduces another Jessie (also played by Parillaud), a less exotic and more troubled heroine, waking up from a dream. A wealthy but naive woman on honeymoon in Jamaica, this Jessie is emotionally fragile, with a suicide attempt and a sexual assault in her past. Suspicious of everyone, even her new husband (William Baldwin), and convinced that her attacker is still stalking her, she's as helpless as her dream alter ego is self-confident. This second story, the threatened woman on the verge of a breakdown, is in its own way as familiar as that of the competent hitwoman.

From the banal threads of the glossy violent programmer and the romantic suspense melodrama, Shattered Image fashions a stylish and intelligent psychological thriller, one of the most clever reworkings of the suspense genre (with specific nods to Vertigo) since Brian De Palma's string of neo-Hitchcock studies of the early '80s. The first major English-language feature from the prolific Chilean-born but multinational Raul Ruiz (who has made nearly 100 films of varying length over the last four decades -- of which only about five have been screened locally), Shattered Image makes no attempt to disguise its mundane plot(s), recognizing both as fertile sources for cinematic dreamwork. Allowing neither story a privileged position, Ruiz and screenwriter Duane Poole allow the two narratives to intertwine and redirect each other: The heiress dreams of the ruthless killer, hoping that the latter's pursuit of a new victim will provide answers to her own problems, while the assassin Jessie dreams of her weaker counterpart and finds her carefully ordered world thrown out of step by elements from the other woman's history.

The film is deceptively simple at first, so much so that for the first 20 minutes, I found myself wondering how filmmakers as distinguished as Ruiz and producer Barbet Schroeder became involved in such a routine project. More a fabulist than a stylist (critics almost inevitably compare him to Borges), Ruiz is more interested in the process of storytelling than in the legitimization of a particular plot. Though the cinematography of Robby Muller is excellent, Ruiz likes his films simple, favoring analysis over imagery. By treating his two worlds, the dreamworld of the killer and the (apparently) real world of the honeymooners at face value, he allows a more complex fiction to unfold. Are the two Jessies twin halves of a shattered personality, or are they literally dreaming each other? In Ruiz's view, psychology takes a backseat to imagination, and just when it appears that the film has reached a tight, simple conclusion, a new puzzle opens.

In his last film, That Obscure Object of Desire, the late Luis Bunuel (whose surrealist sensibility is shared by Ruiz) used two actresses in a single role to show the conflicting sides of a single personality. Ruiz achieves something similar here: The performers, most of them in dual roles, shift between the two dreamworlds, only partly aware that they have a doppelganger on the other side. Parillaud is especially affecting, often bringing the conflicting sensibilities of the murderer and the victim together within a single scene. Like her performance, Shattered Image is a subtlecontinued on next pagecontinued from previous pagetriumph, familiar on the surface but gradually unfolding layers of complexity and insight.

Opens Dec. 4 at the Plaza Frontenac.
-- Robert Hunt

Various Artists

Even in this age of impermanence, especially in this age of impermanence, those images that leave an impression, those narratives that remain, the material that remains memorable amid the ephemera -- this is where art carries its power. And because this is an age of impermanence, it is increasingly difficult for artists to gain the attention of more than the cursory glance. That glance diminishes art and would make philistines of us all.

These thoughts arose after I saw the group of videos to be presented at the Forum for Contemporary Art at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 2. Video artists are especially susceptible to an indifferent audience because of how video and film have become the art form for the mass audience, a form that has attained a visual language that works at a highly sophisticated level. Although most of the artists on display in this short series are not seeking that mass audience, they still must find a way to produce a unique visual document for an audience that has just about seen it all.

The artists in this series who succeed do so primarily by achieving a level of intimacy that is rare for the medium. Video, which is so cool, they make warm -- or even hot, as found in the smoldering anger within the work of Guillermo Gomez-Pena. For the most part these are personal documents, but ones that touch on broad themes encompassing politics, history and identity.

The most compelling of these -- those which extend beyond the glance and last in the memory -- are works by Gomez-Pena and Linda Montano. They're the most interesting to consider because of how they are effective in such contrary ways. As Gomez-Pena is full of flash, sensation, cross-cuts, noise, Montano is slow, methodical, repetitive, contemplative. Gomez-Pena would confront the viewer with a testament of North American racism; Montano would seek an artistic expression without purpose.

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