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Time Code

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Shot by director Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas, Miss Julie) in "four continuous takes" and with only a "predetermined structure" as its story, Time Code literally shows four separate scenes at the same time throughout its 93-minute duration. The film's first clear quad shows two women. In the foreground, but blurry, is Emma (Saffron Burrows, Deep Blue Sea); the focus on her psychiatrist (Glenne Headley) is sharp. This reverses as Burrows' character relates a dream in which she could not sop up the blood of a man whose identity the film doesn't reveal. Someone does end up dying in a pool of blood, but Figgis isn't foreshadowing for dramatic tension. Rather, he's using a technique (he shot the film using four Sony DSR-1 cameras, which are designed to be held on the director's shoulder) to elaborate on the synchronicity of the characters upon whom he focuses.

Figgis concentrates most on Emma, the wife of Alex, a director (Stellan Skarsgard, Good Will Hunting) who skips meetings to have sex with his mistress, Rose (Salma Hayek, Wild Wild West), in the back of a production company screening room. Meanwhile, Rose's jealous lesbian lover, Lauren (Jeanne Tripplehorn), waits for her in the back of a limousine. On the outer rim of the film's loosely structured real-time setting are an assortment of masseurs (Julian Sands), coke-snorting security guards (Danny Huston), and self-absorbed producers (Steven Weber and Kyle MacLachlan). Technology plays an integral, if subdued, element in the film. Lauren wires Rose's handbag to listen to her unfaithfulness. A production meeting is the setting for a pitch that references Eisenstein and the "new unity" of art and technology. In the film's final breaths, a woman films a man dying -- with his permission to shoot closer. Underneath the whole film are emotional currents in conversations, which Figgis simultaneously tunes in and out of audio range.

Time Code is not the most meaningful film Figgis has ever made, but it is compelling. Granted, the film's milieu -- which we've seen in The Player, Get Shorty, and Swimming with Sharks -- is familiar. How much are we supposed to care about the characters on whom we do no more than eavesdrop? The film's conundrum is that its technology seems, at first, more sophisticated than the depth of its narrative. Somehow, that fact becomes the exclamation point. On the surface, the four running narratives -- and the characters -- occasionally touch but never really affect one another until the film's one emotional seismic wave that, in the real-time narrative, renders the action almost mundane and absurd.

Superficially, Time Code is a microcosm of Los Angeles at the end of the century. In between the earthquakes, meetings about sci-fi comedies, and aborted debates about houses in London or Tuscany, an examination takes place. Its relevance is relative to whatever conversations hum in and out of our own daily audio radius. (R) Rating: 7

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