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Starring: Stellan Skarsgard, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Salma Hayek, Saffron Burrows, Holly Hunter Directed by: Mike Figgis Written by: Mike Figgis

The bullets of criticism know no broader target than experimental cinema. The new and unusual is more often than not the clown who waits tentatively for the pie to invade his painted face. So it's no surprise that many critics have licked their respective chops in giddy anticipation, ready to pounce on director Mike ("Leaving Las Vegas") Figgis' latest effort, "Time Code."

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After all, the idea itself has been meet with dubious speculation. Using four separate digital video cameras, the story is essentially told in one take. What the audience pays witness to are all four shots simultaneously - the screen divided into four separate quadrants, resulting in the audience's ability to view different events, taking place in different locations, all happening at the same time. As you can probably guess, its effect on the viewer can be somewhat frustrating at times.

But does that automatically make it a bad film? Not necessarily. Sure, the experience most definitely isn't for anyone. And yes, an argument could be made that the effort is nothing more than Figgis' self-canonization as a cinema pioneer. Yet to dismiss it solely on those grounds seems a bit unfair.

The story (which ultimately takes a back seat to the process of telling it) involves several inhabitants of the cutthroat world of Hollywood filmmaking. We meet a film producer (Stellan Skarsgard) whose philandering has become a mastodonic emotional burden to his wife (Saffron Burrows). Meanwhile, the producer's mistress (Salma Hayek) is naively unaware that her lesbian lover (Jeanne Tripplehorn) has caught on to her affair with the Hollywood big shot. Using the unusual filming technique, we witness all these individuals as they scramble around in the emotional rubble resembling their lives, grasping at anything that may provide them with a sense of self-worth.

Despite the obvious confusion one would expect from an experience like this, Figgis is able to steer the audience's attention toward one particular subplot during certain moments by elevating the audio for that one shot, while subduing the sound of the other three. It gives the movie a little more direction, a trait the story does require at times.

I think the best way to view "Time Code" would be to not get caught up in attempting to follow all four plot lines simultaneously. That necessitates too much effort and results in an abundance of frustration. My eyes found their way to different quadrants at different times, and while I'm sure a great many details escaped my attention, the movie's essential tone did manage to wander into my conscious mind. I suppose that's the best I could ask for from a movie of this sort. Figgis' experiment isn't emotionally captivating, but it is filmmaking at its most audacious. Let's not lynch the guy for trying.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney Critically Ill

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