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timecode poster
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Time Code

Rated [R], 93 minutes
Starring Stellan Skarsg
ård, Saffron Burrows, Salma Hayek and Jeanne Tripplehorn
Written and Directed by Mike Figgis

IN SHORT: like nothing you've seen before.

difficult. challenging. infuriating. boring. fascinating. compelling. overwhelming. confusing. A must see if only for the reason that it is the definite first of its kind, writer/director Mike Figgis' Time Code is all the above times four. We joke from time to time about the "film student" we keep gagged and manacled behind barred and chained doors in the furthest dark and dank recesses of our mind. We let him out for this one and, for the same reason, we've passed on using the "dollar" rating because it just doesn't apply to something as unique as Time Code. It kind of goes like this:

Lauren Hathaway (Jeanne Tripplehorn), convinced that her lover is having an affair, plants a bug and spends the next 90 minutes sitting in her limousine, eavesdropping on the doings of ... Emma Green (Saffron Burrows) meets with her shrink (Glenne Headley) working out the decision whether or not to leave her husband, a philandering film producer about to have a nervous breakdown while setting up...
... Rose (Salma Hayek) who, under the pretense of going to an audition, actually is doing the nasty with Alex Green (Stellan Skarsgård) a whiz of a film producer who has no intent of giving her an audition for... ...Bitch From Louisiana, a Red Mullet movie production directed by ex-junkie Lester Moore (Richard Edson) who is in the offices casting while the rest of the RM staff develop other film and television projects.

Four main characters and their stories, each with its own quadrant on the big screen. Three substories crossing back and forth between them all: the agent (Kyle MacLachlan) and his clients pitching their concept; the actress girlfriend of the agent who wants to set up a three way tryst with Emma; the security guard who deals drugs to the entire office; plus the foundation setting of the production office and the actions of the office staff (notably Holly Hunter and Steven Weber) as their best and brightest falls apart. From a story by Figgis, Time Code is a totality of one massive improvisation, shot in one 93 minute long take. 93 being the number of minutes on a professional digital recording cassette, four of them running each of the fifteen times the cast made it all up from the word "action".

With four streams of dialog and visuals coming at you, Time Code threatens at times to overwhelm with info-babble. A judicious sound mix guides your eye, though we found ours doing a fast back and forth wobble. Twice the sound mix put dialog on the wrong side of the screen, which seems to be a deliberate effort to make your audio perception wobble just like your eyeballs. We're sensitive to sound and found it distracting. The fascinating part of the "experience" is that, since you're essentially missing at least two screens at a time while you watch, it's entirely possible to sit through Time Code a second or third time to catch what you missed -- and what you missed may have a greater effect on your appreciation of the psychological motivations of each of the main actors. At minimum, a second view will help you follow the stories you passed up the first time through.

What helps hold all four screens together is the one thing that couldn't be written into the improv nature of the script . . . earthquake aftershocks in Los Angeles, of which there were several during the take. Not only do the 'shocks link all four stories visually, they are a jarring wake up call to any member of the audience overwhelmed by the events on screen. That being said, those film students and arthouse mavens out there should be flocking to see Time Code. Folks wanting to munch popcorn may want to wait for a cheaper ticket 'cuz all the adjectives at the top of the page really do apply to the overall film.

There has never been anything like Time Code. At one level or another, it's a recommended view, if nothing else than to be part of history. Figgis and his acting troupe have done something remarkable.

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