Cold characters sharpen corners of this love triangle

September 03, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

"Proof," by its very existence, makes an irrefutable argument, a proof-positive: that it's possible to make a very good movie with three actors, a script and a camera.

Of course "Proof" isn't an American enterprise: How could it be? A tight, mordant psychological thriller from Australia, it's about a tangled, highly charged love triangle -- the oldest of stories -- as reimagined through the freshest of lenses so that it feels deliriously new. It's about a blind photographer, his housekeeper, a kid he meets in a restaurant and the battle royale the three have for his soul and heart.

Yeah. Another one of those.

Martin (Hugo Weaving), blind since birth, has evolved into a thorny, embittered personality, who putters about Sydney in an angry isolation. He believes, for example, that his mother didn't die but that she faked her death so she wouldn't have to raise him. He has a chip on his shoulder the size of K2. His only connection with the sighted world is sheer delusion: he takes pictures of what he cannot see and requires that people describe them to him. He's continually daring people to disappoint him so he can retreat even further into self pity. But he makes a big mistake: he makes a friend.

This is young Andy (Russell Crowe), a dishwasher in an undistinguished Italian restaurant, and when the two connect, it's clear that by some rule of the chemistry of personality, they are fated to be close.

The development does not sit well with Celia (Genevieve Picot), who tends house for Martin but who has secretly fallen in a kind of love with him that's three parts lust and seven parts cruelty and all parts power. Perhaps "love" isn't quite the right word; perhaps there isn't a right word. She secretly follows him to the park each day, and restrains his seeing eye dog, knowing that in those moments when Martin can't reach Bill are his most terrifying. She responds to the threat of Andy with cold efficiency: she seduces the young man, making certain poor Hugo will discover the treachery.

What I like about this movie is that I like nobody in it. These people are all flamboyantly twisted or only banally dim (Andy turns out to be a petty liar), and yet the director, Jocelyn Moorehouse, brings them to such crackling life we find ourselves caring in spite of our best intentions.

Moorehouse is attracted to cold perversity. There's a sense of clamminess that runs through "Proof," but the remarkable thing is the way she reverses assumptions of storytelling. Anybody can tell a story with a cuddly, vulnerable hero; try and tell one about a cold, misanthropic blind man who snaps at everybody. That's what Moorehouse had tried and that's what she's brought off.

'Proof'

Starring Hugo Weaving and Genevieve Picot.

Directed by Jocelyn Moorehouse.

Released by Fine Line.

Unrated.

***

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