Thursday, July 19, 2012

Alexis Lloyd's 30 BEATS updates La Ronde for changing times and via New York City

TM is pretty much a sucker for La Ronde and its remakes -- beginning with the original Schnitzler play to the initial movie version (in 1950, by Max Ophüls),  continuing through Roger Vadim's not-bad re-do (1964) for which Jean Anouilh wrote the adaptation, and with a new example arriving nearly every decade since. He also rather liked the Michael John LaChiusa off-Broad-way musical Hello Again (1993), drawn from this eternally bubbling spring. And why not? The vagaries of love, sex and rela-tionships are ever-ripe for dramatization, and this particular little engine -- whether steam, electric or solar-powered -- proves a near-perfect one to demonstrate all sorts of things about humani-ty's endeavors regarding love, limerence and one-night-stands.

All of which brings us to the latest incarnation, 30 BEATS, a charming, well-cast and -acted "take" on La Ronde -- with an original twist. Formerly, most, if not all, of the versions I've seen (and I think that occasion-ally I've seen one that forgot to even credit its source), offered a rather sad, cynical look at these "relationships," in which character A connects with character B, then B connects with C, C with D and so on -- until character J connects with, yes, A, thus completing this little "circle of love" (which happens to have been the title of Vadim's version). The writer/director of 30 Beats, Alexis Lloyd, (shown above), a fellow known more for producing than for writing and directing (this is his first full-length feature), has given us one the best modern versions of La Ronde that I have seen because, instead of cynicism, sadness or shame, this movie-maker opts for sex as a kind of doorway to learning, discovery, and opening up to life, love and change.

This is not to say that everything is hunky-dory in Lloyd's little universe. We don't get happy endings to any of our couplings. But we do, I think you could say, get happy middles, with the characters giving, receiving and moving on (as do newcomer Condola Rashad, above, right, and Justin Kirk, above, left, who play, respectively A and B in the film.

This, of course, will frighten (and that fear will then take the form of anger) those of a fundamentalist bent who are certain of what god/allah/yaweh has told us subservient humans to do, and so we'd damn well better get on the stick and do it! No, Mr Lloyd suggests: Let's try something different here. So B (our characters do have names, by the way, but I am just making it easier for you) decides to try a psychic, C (an intelligent, empathetic, warm-then-cold performance by Jennifer Tilly, above, left, with Mr. Kirk).

And so it goes, onwards through a bicycle messenger (Jason Day), a young woman facing a difficult health situation (Paz de la Huerta, in a change of pace, above), a chiropractor (the gifted and versatile Lee Pace, below, left), a switchboard operator (Vahina Giocante, below, right), a political speechwriter, a call girl and a young man who is still -- shock! -- a virgin.

Now, I admit that Lloyd is no Schnitzler nor Anouilh in the writing department. Hence his movie does seem to dawdle a bit, midway, with dialog that is, while always believable, sometimes not too much more than that.

Then, for the final three couplings, things begin to blossom again, growing better and more beautiful as the filmmaker's plan comes to fruition. Especially fine is that excellent actor Thomas Sadoski, above, center, as the speechwriter, who goes from a twosome to a very high-class call girl -- played by the movie's ace-in-the-hole, Ingeborga Dapkunaite (below, and most recently seen here in Farewell). Ms Dapkunaite is simply stunning: ravishing, composed and utterly elegant as the retiring call girl about to open her own art gallery. The solo scene in which she visits the empty gallery is one of the movie's best.

What I particularly liked was how good with (and generous to) women Mr. Lloyd proved. And how he uses sex, not as we so often get it, as a teaser, something sleazy and exciting but finally nega-tive and destructive. What a pleasant change to see that sex can also be liberating, useful and growth-inducing. And the director's choice not to show the actual sex scenes themselves (once one realizes this and grows used to it) was a wise one, I think, because we can then use our imagination about what happened -- and how and why. After the screening, another critic in the audience noted, “I sure hope they were using condoms!” Since we never saw these people in action, as it were, we needn't worry and can assume they were safe. (Or perhaps that they were doing things for which a condom was not required. Really, imagination can be so useful.)

A word should also be said for the two youngest performers here: the lovely, fulsome Ms Rashad and the sweet 'n sexy Ben Levin, above, who plays the much-heralded virgin. The music is lovely, too -- the original by C.C. Adcock, with the supervision of the rest by K. Blaine Johnston -- accompanying well the pacing, performances and, in some ways, making up the very heart and soul of this film. For a first full-length feature, 30 Beats is a surprisingly original take on a modern-day La Ronde: thoughtful, intelligent and entertaining.

The movie opens this Friday, July 20 -- offering a possible alternative to the work of a certain Mr. Nolan -- in New York City at Clearview Cinemas' Chelsea and First & 62nd locations, and at City Cinemas' Village East, and also in theaters in Arizona, California, Missouri and New Jersey.  Click here to see all (or most) locations. (The web site seems to have left out our own Clearview Chelsea from its list.)

All photos are from the film itself, 
except for that of the director, 
which was taken by Amanda Schwab 
and comes courtesy of

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