Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 10 July 2004
Source Miramax VHS
Thomas, an exotic bird smuggler, shares a cab with a stranger. The stranger supplants his fare with tickets to an eclectic ballet. Thomas attends the ballet, sharing the remaining ticket with another stranger met at the door. Afterwards, Thomas refuses to accept the man’s money and returns it, and the man suggests using the money to fund a date. Thomas considers the offer, nervously, and leaves.
This scene is like many in Exotica; it is deceptively simple, as it spells a character’s traits with action and subtlety. In this case Thomas is struck by his unexpected ease at attracting a date. Later in the film he fabricates an identical scenario to achieve the same end.
The action is centered in the eponymous strip club. It is strewn with palms, attracting a contingent of middle-aged, upper-class businessmen. Eric is the club’s deejay, whose luring voice is used to attract business between dances. Expectedly, perhaps, Eric shares a past relationship with one of the dancers, Christina. During her routines he wallows in the background, watching her through two-way mirrors, his jealousy overwhelming his desire.
Nightly, almost, enters Francis. He is a wealthy tax auditor, and in this arena inviting quiet lust he is the most frequent and pained customer. Each time he is to see Christina. “Sometimes he has to wait for her,” notices Eric, “Sometimes she has to wait for him.”
Apparent from its ominous, opening pan is Exotica’s craft — the film is deliberate and attentive, and displays action that is not apparently related or significant — at first. The first portion of the narrative is interrupted by a flashback (the scene garners tremendous meaning by the film’s end). Ultimately, the exposition purposefully lacks a cohesiveness.
At the moment Francis enters Thomas’ pet store to do an audit things are clarified—this is the first scene in which each appears in the other’s company. And although the pace of Exotica is consistently patient, it is at this moment (if not before) that the viewer is engaged. I was captivated.
Exotica’s triumph is its narrative construction and telling. Its fault is its noticeably calculated performances. It should be stated that this is a director’s film — one that displays an artist’s craft and not the merits of the subjects or actors. Though the film contains prominent talents (Elias Koteas among them), few of them appear comfortably loose.
Exotica is a complex film, one that, upon first viewing, thrives on the multiple possibilities of its narrative arc. At the film’s end, expectedly perhaps, the diversions cohere. The ending of Exotica supplies a lens that carefully distorts subsequent viewings, though there is little impulse to criticize the film’s employment of this convention.