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Synecdoche, New York


Stars: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, Hope Davis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michelle Williams, Tom Noonan, Dianne Wiest

Director: Charlie Kaufman

I'm all for the occasional slice of surrealism in films, and it's nice to see Kaufman (of Being John Malkovich fame) trying something that defies logic, time planes or conventional narrative. The trouble is that it doesn't really work.

We can't quite identify with these people who make exaggerated jumps across time, creating their own black holes, and end up as characters in their own play, portrayed by other people.

Kaufman doesn't want to offer any explanations, yet we demand some, even if they prove cock-eyed.

Hoffman stars as a theatre director who's falling apart, both mentally and physically, faster than the apartment he shares with his artist wife (Keener) and four-year-old daughter, who depart on a month's vacation to Berlin and never come back.

Hoffman becomes involved with his red-haired box-office girl (Morton), but can't make love to her, and has bizarre encounters with a shrink (Davis) who sells him copies of her books, which run out of pages after depicting events that are currently happening, for 45 dollars a pop.

He also rents a vast warehouse which he plans to turn into a grand theatre in which, we later learn, he has held rehearsals (without inviting the paying public) for 17 years. How does he keep on scores of actors under these circumstances? Ah, this is the kind of question we shouldn't ask, any more than why Morton lives in a permanently burning house, even as the film (deliberately) loses touch with reality at the same time as its hero.

Sounds fascinating, but no. Unpleasant in detail, the film will have you covering your eyes in places as well as looking at your watches.

David Quinlan

USA 2008. UK Distributor: Revolver (Sony Pictures Classics). Colour by deluxe.
124 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 2, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 1, Swearing 2.

Review date: 14 May 2009