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Signs & Wonders

Starring Stellan Skarsgård, Charlotte Rampling and Deborah Kara Unger
Screenplay by James Lasdun and Jonathan Nossiter
Based on a story by James Lasdun
Directed by Jonathan Nossiter

IN SHORT: An indecipherable mystery . . . unless it's just plain indecipherable. [Not rated. 108 minutes]

We're not sure if the term was coined for a Marilyn Monroe movie or if there is indeed such a thing as a "seven year itch". We're going to go with the latter because its as good a base as any to start our dissection of Signs & Wonders which is, by any angle of analysis, a complete mess.

Marjorie Fenton (Charlotte Rampling) has a job with the US Embassy in Athens and a statistically perfect marriage. A loving husband, Alec (Stellan Skarsgård) and two kidlets. Alec, sixteen or so years into his marriage, has a roving eye. The object of his affection is Katherine Fontaine (Deborah Kara Unger) and, as thrilling as the affair with a younger woman is, he fesses up to his wife. To keep the family together she forgives him. An unspecified amount of time later, on a family skiing trip, Alec sees Katherine on the slopes and schusses out of his family's life for good.

So far so good. Even better when Katherine plants the idea that Alec is so easily manipulated that she planned the accidental encounter. But when the man goes home a second time, he finds that he's been replaced by another man (Dimitris Katalifos). Somewhere in here is a divorce and almost everywhere is an annoying, moving camera. Director Jonathan Nossiter shot his project on video, which we don't really mind, but his seeming obsession with the utter mobility of the camera leads to distracting movements which get in the way of telling the story, which eventually include an arrest of a principal character. Two men, one woman, you can make an educated guess and save yourself the ticket money.

The script itself, trying to build some kind of mystery, tosses a number of mines in our path as well. Look at the character names: Fenton and Fontaine, Alec and Andreas. Add to that an obsession with the text of Alice in Wonderland, which leads to a Third Act plot twist that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. If it made even half a bit of sense we'd hint at what it is, but we're not that clever. We are sharp enough to catch the irony in a different twist of the story in which Alec never learns that he's got another family coming, if only he can finally walk away from the first one.

All the twists are dropped on you like a two ton block. Again and again, the story comes back to an action in Alice in Wonderland, the significance of which (for those of us who haven't read the story in thirty years) is totally lost and hardly made clear by the story. We can't blame the cast for their work in a story that is too clever for its own good. We can blame the author for assuming that a minor plot point in a famous story is universally known.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Signs & Wonders, he would have paid...


If only the writer/director knows what is going on in the story, as we feel is the case with Signs & Wonders, it yields a film that is painful to sit through.

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