'Inside/Out' presents film as artistic expression

September 25, 1998|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

In an era of the 17-writer movie, filmgoers live in a tyranny of narrative, in which story is all and the formal elements of filmmaking -- such things as shadow, light, camera movement, composition, gesture and sound design -- are given short shrift or are ignored entirely.

With "Inside/Out," which makes its U.S. premiere at the Charles Theatre today, Baltimore filmmaker Rob Tregenza stakes a claim for cinema, not as an ox pulling the narrative cart but as the cart itself. Tregenza makes the sort of abstract, theoretically driven films that are commonly put down as "artsy," "intellectual" and "pretentious." Well, yes, and more power to him.

"Inside/Out" offers the inspiring idea that film can still be a medium for artistic expression, as plastic and dimensional as paint or clay.

Ostensibly "Inside/Out," which traces the experiences of a group of mental patients, their caretakers and an Episcopal priest traumatized by World War II, is about the institutions that control our lives and how we live inside and outside them. But these themes, as well as the plot that weaves them together, remain obscure in the face of Tregenza's investigation of cinema itself.

With long, wordless takes, a swooping, pendular camera, the enormous expanse of the CinemaScope format and sophisticated Dolby sound, he creates a film- scape across which images and sound sweep with majestic, almost oceanic force. Whether it's the absurdist tableaux of a fox hunt interrupting a woman's escape from a hospital or two men engaged in a Chaplinesque vignette on a snowy railroad track, the meticulously composed pictures and sounds (the fox horn, a train whistle) emerge in clear, sculptural relief.

Tregenza's meanings are purposefully oblique, and what dialogue there is recalls the arch pseudo-poetry of the Obsession perfume advertising campaign ("I am an acrobat dancing on the line between reason and insanity"). But the elemental power of "Inside/Out" is undeniable. Let it wash over you, and experience film as it is too rarely experienced today: as an artistic medium to be experimented with and celebrated.


Starring Frederic Pierrot, Stefania Rocca, Berangere Allaux, Tom Gilroy, Mikkel Gaup, Steven Watkins

Directed by Rob Tregenza

Released by Parallel Pictures

Rated Unrated

Running time 115 minutes

Sun score ****

Pub Date: 9/25/98

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