Signs & Wonders

"Weak"

Signs & Wonders Review


A textbook example of a pretentious art film, "Signs and Wonders" bursts with superfluous symbolism, overcranked tension, deliberately vague performances and proud-to-be-low-budget stylistic idiosyncrasies. But for all its pretense, it has a lot of the same problems that make for bad mainstream movies.

The biggest of those problems is the use of hackneyed plot devices -- like an eavesdropping character misconstruing part of a conversation -- to drive significant portions of the story.

"Signs" is about Alec, a manic-depressive middle-aged American stock analyst (curiously played by Danish Stellan Skarsgard) who habitually sabotages his marriage. He lives comfortably in Athens, Greece, with Marjorie, his U.S. embassy worker wife (curiously played by English Charlotte Rampling) and two kids. But their marriage has become systematic and he's having an affair with a co-worker named Katherine (Deborah Kara Unger, a bona fide American).

Obsessed with reading meaning and karmic cues into every part of his life, Alec has a fit of rectitude on his way to meet Katherine one night after seeing something he considers a sign (although at this point we don't know enough about his fixation to take note what that something is). He confesses his affair to Marjorie and detaches himself from Katherine, shunning her indignation.

That is until a year later when they meet by coincidence on the slopes of a Swiss ski resort while he's on holiday with his family. Emotionally waffling Alec takes this as a sign and a few scenes later he and Katherine are strolling through a conspicuously American shopping mall. He's left his family and moved back to the States with his mistress.

Co-writer and director Jonathan Nossiter (an American expatriate himself) does a fine job of bottling the jumbled emotions Skarsgard skillfully infuses into Alec. Shooting on digital video adds a layer of tension to the film by making the audience feel uncomfortably close to his characters' anguished psyches. Adding a substantial extra layer of additional psychosomatic strain is an intense, staccato score by Adiran Utley (of the band Portishead) that vacillates wildly -- often in the same scene -- between sharp piano, traditional Greek guitar and unnerving percussion that sounds like three hearts beating out of time.

All this helps put the audience inside Alec's head when his precarious faith in fortuitous portent is shaken by Katherine's suggestion that the meeting on the ski slope was not by chance. Angry and thrown off his conviction, Alec returns to Athens once again to beg for Marjorie's forgiveness. But she's had enough and has moved on with another man, a former Greek freedom fighter named Andreas (Dimitris Katalifos).

Up to this point "Signs and Wonders" was already lacking in eloquence and has had difficulty with obnoxiously overt symbolism and overly postured acting (each actor has powerful moments, but they don't begin to sync up with each other). But it isn't until Alec begins honing in on his family's new life that the film goes into a tailspin.

Alec's hopeless and extreme preoccupation with picking up the pieces of his former life makes him as irrational and clueless as a soap opera character. This in turn leads to stalking and some highly contrived misunderstandings -- predicated in part on the fact that he doesn't know Katherine has followed him back to Greece and is stalking him in turn.

Nossiter beats the movie's themes, symbols and ironies into the ground with a bizarre twist involving Alec's 12-year-old daughter (Ashley Remy) that leads to several serious suspension of disbelief problems regarding the intelligence and common sense of these characters, and to a drawn-out finale of acute but laboriously manipulative emotional strain.

The humanity and raw passions at the core of "Signs and Wonders" would have been better served by less cinematic affectation and more simplicity than Nossiter has provided in this intentionally supercilious picture.



Signs & Wonders

Facts and Figures

Run time: 60 mins

In Theaters: Sunday 23rd January 2000

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

IMDB: 7.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Starring: as Alec, as Marjorie, as Katherine

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Jackie Movie Review

Jackie Movie Review

Rather than make a standard biopic about the most famous First Lady in American history,...

Split Movie Review

Split Movie Review

After a few badly received sci-fi blockbusters, M. Night Shyamalan returned to his earthier style...

xXx: Return of Xander Cage Movie Review

xXx: Return of Xander Cage Movie Review

It's been 15 years since Vin Diesel walked away from his XXX role, killing off...

Manchester by the Sea Movie Review

Manchester by the Sea Movie Review

This may not be the cheeriest movie of the season, but it's so skilfully written,...

Live By Night Movie Review

Live By Night Movie Review

Ben Affleck launched his directing career 10 years ago with his film of Dennis Lehane's...

La La Land Movie Review

La La Land Movie Review

After storming awards season with Whiplash two years ago, writer-director Damien Chazelle returns with something...

Assassin's Creed Movie Review

Assassin's Creed Movie Review

Hopes were high that this film might finally crack the curse of movies based on...

Advertisement
Silence Movie Review

Silence Movie Review

Faith is a topic Martin Scorsese can't quite shake, courting controversy with complex films like...

A Monster Calls Movie Review

A Monster Calls Movie Review

A difficult movie to market, this isn't actually the BFG-style fantasy adventure it looks like....

Monster Trucks Movie Review

Monster Trucks Movie Review

Word has it that a 4-year-old came up with the idea for this unapologetically silly...

Collateral Beauty Movie Review

Collateral Beauty Movie Review

Dramas exploring the nature of death and the true meaning of life are always in...

Paterson Movie Review

Paterson Movie Review

Unpredictable filmmaker Jim Jarmusch ricochets from his artful vampire movie Only Lovers Left Alive into...

I, Daniel Blake Movie Review

I, Daniel Blake Movie Review

At 80 years old, British filmmaker Ken Loach won his second Cannes Film Festival with...

Why Him? Movie Review

Why Him? Movie Review

Writer-director John Hamburg continues to recycle the formula that made his first hit Meet the...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.