`Doomed Love': a crescendo of images based on folk tales and old movie clich'es

``Doomed Love'' is less gloomy than its title suggests, but every bit as romantic. The hero spends the whole movie pining for a former state of happiness that has somehow slipped from his grasp. We never find out much about it, except that it involved a woman who now appears only in a hazy photograph. Mooning away, he strikes up a friendship with a young nurse who tries to comfort him.

As a strange bond grows between them, we realize that she embodies his long-lost love in some mysterious way. Like characters in ``Pell'eas et M'elisande,'' they are living in a fairy tale they don't understand. Their condition is both magical and melancholy.

The style of the film mirrors its half-logical material. The camera builds a slow crescendo of images based on timeless folk tales and old movie clich'es. Meanwhile the sound track veers between clipped, repetitive dialogue and music drawn from the jukebox and the opera house. All these elements are treated with mingled irony and respect by director Andrew Horn, whose sense of control doesn't wobble for a moment, even though ``Doomed Love'' is his first feature-length effort.

The result is an oddly affecting film that flirts with various labels but accepts none of them: funny and sad, satirical and sincere, anxious and resigned, warmly engaged and coolly observant. Like another strong independent filmmaker, Mark Rappaport, director Horn uses stylized sets and performances to distance himself (and us) from subject matter that would be volatile and passionate in a more conventional setting. What distinguishes Horn's work is his skill at drawing a wide range of emotional and artistic materials into a synthesis that's as diverting as it is complex.

His most visible collaborators are stars Bill Rice and Rosemary Moore, who hit all the right notes as the lovelorn hero and his sympathetic friend. The screenplay is by Jim Neu, whose dialogue recalls sources as varied as middle-period Jean-Luc Godard and TV soaps.

Despite its many virtues, ``Doomed Love'' has apparently been consigned to the overlooked family of films considered too offbeat for theaters, yet too ``linear'' and plotty for museum-type venues. Hence few Americans have seen it, although it has been screened at a long list of festivals and is distributed in at least five European countries. Perhaps its fortunes will improve now that the Collective for Living Cinema has booked it for New York showings on Feb. 7, 14, 21, and 28. It deserves a much wider audience than it has found so far.

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