Time Code

Movies today compress a multi-dimensional story line into a single linear one. This isn't a bad thing: it allows for plot lines that can span arbitrary amounts of time and scenarios that are impossible physically. Judicious editing also eliminates the necessity of watching what our brain can easily fill in and cuts to the chase so we see only the most interesting happenings.

Time Code is a breathtaking attempt by Director Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas) to shake this paradigm, from both the perspective of film making and film watching. First, the film is divided into quadrants and each one primarily tells the story of one of the characters in the film. Each quadrant is filmed in real-time in one long 93-minute take (it was the fifteenth take that was used as the final one for the film) without pauses or edits. Thus the actors were given rough outlines and were asked to improvise while four digital hand-held cameras were running simultaneously (ergo, the name of the film, which is used to synchronise the takes from the different quadrants).

In a vein similar to Robert Altman films (such as Short Cuts), the characters' lives are all intertwined with one another. Given the way Time Code is made, we can witness the intersection of the paths of the characters as it happens. The primary protagonists are Rose (Salma Hayek) an aspiring actress who is sleeping with Alex Green (Stellan Skarsgard), the head of Red Mullet Studios so she can gain an audition in an upcoming film; Lauren (Jeanne Tripplehorn) her jealous lover; and Emma (Saffron Burrow), Alex's wife who wants to end their relationship.

The plot is loose and doesn't hold together too well, but it is interesting to watch how the complex set of relationships between the characters is resolved (so the ending really held my attention from the perspective of a story). My focus was however on how difficult it must has been to create a workable scenario (simple as it is) as depicted, and the vision it must have required to pull it off successfully. A huge amount of credit must be given to all the actors who do a tremendous job. The movie is designed such that it is rare that more than one quadrant is interesting and Figgis turns down or turns up the volume for the action in a given quadrant at any given time, thus focusing the audience's attention. The sound track (composed and mixed in part by Figgis) is excellent.

The plot is ultimately throwing barbs at the very institution that has (in some ways) made Figgis a success: the movie industry. Figgis doesn't spare himself, and toward the end, we hear a young and attractive film maker (Mia Maestro) and her boyfriend (who raps to lyrics like "Trotsky's in the house/Lenin's in the house") pitching a self-referential film project. Alex responds by saying that this is "most pretentious crap" he has heard. Figgis' self-effacement is refreshing and amusing.

The film is one those expressions that work well and represent an artistic statement the first time it is done (much like John Cage's 4'33") but will probably not be appealing if done routinely (sophisticated editing, orchestrated screen plays, and plot implausibility are what make cinema enjoyable). Time Code is a movie that I liked incredibly because I admire the audacity and the self-indulgence of Director Mike Figgis' vision. It's the sheer innovativeness of the project that makes it worth watching and I highly recommend it.

Movie ram-blings || Ram Samudrala || me@ram.org