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May 22, 1980 - Image 9

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Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1980-05-22

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The Michigan Daily-Thursday, May 22, 1980-Page 9
'NIGHT GAMES'
Fim fantasy an porno-reality

By ADAM KNEE
Roger Vadim's Night Games is a
careful but flawed and ultimately un-
successful study in erotic lyricism cen-
tered about an attractive ex-costume-
designer, Valerie (Cindy Picket)..
Unable to have sexual relations
because she has been emotionally
scarred by a rape as a young girl, each
time she begins intercourse or is
touched in a certain way, her mind
clicks back into the emotional
e framework of the incident and she goes
into hysterics. She is unable to differen-
tiate between the reality of the present
and her memories and fantasies of the
past.
While her husband is gone on a
business trip, she drifts even farther
away from reality, dreaming up wild
sexual fantasies, and we are seduced
into this dream world with her. Denis
Lewiston's cinematography and John
Barry's striking musical score are
smooth flowing, lyrical invitation;
there is never a clumsy movement or a
harsh note. The music is performed by
a small ensemble of strings and harp,
with occasional highlighting by eerie,
dreamlike voices or a soft flute. The
etheral melodies are effectively used to
counterpoint moments of tension,
keeping us from being jarred out of the
dream world; it forms the entire soun-
dtrack for the fantasy sequences, which
are shot in a relaxing soft focus. In oone
memorable shot, Valerie glides down
the magnificent curved staircase in the
darkened foyer of her mansion, the
camera and music flowing with her, her
leg fleetingly revealing itself from un-
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der her robe as she reaches the bottom.
EFFECTIVE, TOO, is the film's slow
and deliberate pacing; we are forced to
absorb the atmosphere-but what an1
environment. Night Games is filmed
almost entirely in a lavishly furnished
Los Angeles-baroque mansion,
surrounded by many trees and a large
pool over which stares a stone lion's
head with glowing eyes; it is a fantasy
world in itself, set away by several sets
of gates. Indeed, when Valerie does
rush out into the dismal reality of Los
Angeles in hot pursuit of her husband,
we are upset by the brutal contrast.
Although Night Games can be ex-
tremely striking on aural and visual
levels, its intellectual development
proves a bit weak, its characterization
insubstantial, its conclusion hard to
swallow. In the husband's absence, a
man-not another figure of Valerie's
imagination-visits the young woman
each night in a different costume and
she is able to gratify herself fearlessly.
At the film's completion, she learns the
man's identity, and, we are supposed to
believe, in doing so comes to under-
stand the gap between fantasy and
reality. The encounters, then, prove to
have been an effective therapy, and
Valerie is now able to indulge in normal
sexual relations.
Aside from the obvious plot
problems, another underlying fault is
occasional inconsisteny in tone or at-
mosphere; Vadim often stumbles
across the fine line between light fan-
tasy and crazed reality. At times .the
dreamlike mood is inappropriately lif-
ted, or out-of-place details that jar us
are added. The phantom's costumes,
for example, are truly laughable and
unromantic, ranging from a huge red-
feather headpiece to a golden Batman-
style mask and cape. One of the fan-

tasies is incongruously done as a
sexually-unappdaling Chaplinesque
comedy. And Vadim's toying with
reality goes too far when one -of
Valerie's encounters with the phantom
is eclipsed by her own simultaneous in-
ner fantasy, which inexplicably deals
with autoeroticism, voyeurism, and
sado-masochism-all at once.
THIS LACK of absolute control, this
inability to delicately balance what are
indeed complex elements of the work,
causes viewers, I think, to be more
easily disturbed by other flaws-some
minor and some not-so-minor-which
they might have let pass in a more con-
ventional film.
One of these flaws is incredibly poor
dubbing. Except in the more dramatic
moments, mouths clearly move apart
from words, and the dubbed voices are
so loud and over-expressive that one
readily doubts whether they are those
of the actors on the screen. The fact
that the synchronization is right in cer-
tain scenes suggests perhaps Vadim in-
tentionally used poor dubbing to add to
the unreal quality of the film-but it
doesn't work at all. Indeed, this dreamy
yet pronounced lyricism sometimes
gets soheavy it parodies itself.
These and other problems severely
detract from what could have been a
very haunting work; many members of
the skeptical Ann Arbor audience
heckled it throughout or left early. Yet,
if one is willing to let go for a while, to
cast one's enlightened doubts aside and
move into the film's unworldly world,
Night Games can prove enjoyable and
worthwhile viewing.
ONE SAVING grace is that its
technical effects are carefully con-
trolled to make for an organic work of
art. Vadim's camera is quite sensitive

to the emotions of his characters. When
Valerie is upset in the throes of one
passion or another, he freely switches
to a hand-held camera, which
sometimes shakes dramatically, or, in
more subdued scenes, simply wavers
rhythmically. almost undiscernably, as
though in synch with someone's hear-
tbeat or breathing. Less friendly people
are usually shown in long or medium
shots wearing cold blues or blacks,
while warm people tend to be shown in
closeups and wear greens and browns.
Each detail is made to take on a special
significance, largely through
dynamic composition-be it a watch
with its mask of a face removed to lay
bare the real workings inside or a
champagne bottle suggestively angled
near an estranged woman.
And Cindy Picket makes an excep-
tionally attractive estranged woman,-
her sensitive face and slim, delicate
body joys to watch. Vadim doesn't ex-
ploit her-at least not in a straightfor-
ward way. Rather, he gradually
seduces us with her, just as he seduces
us with mysterious music and fluid
cinematography. At first we see bits of
her skin only for brief instants, then we
see her partially-clad in soft-focused
fantasies, then in see-through garmen-
ts. We never see too much of her, and
sex scenes are tastefully and sen-
sitively composed and photographed. It
is this that keeps Night Games a world
apart from average/pornography.-
What Vadim tries to do here is truly
commendable. Pathetically few of
today's films attempt such a rich,
flowing atmosphere-or even spend
much time developing any atmosphere.
It is a shame that the film's quality is so
seriously diminished by its many shor-
tcomings.

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