Amanda Fuller and Ethan Embry star in a challenging new film from director Simon Rumley.
Simon Rumley makes challenging films. Not for all tastes, certainly, but for those who want their genre cinema with a finely-honed sophistication in character and drama. His latest, Fashionista, is part relationship drama and part addiction character study, and it is not beyond wandering into some sinister back alleys.
Those who stay for (or make it to) the end credits will notice that the director dedicates the picture to British cinematographer and auteur director, Nicolas Roeg; one of cinema's great experimenters who is, remarkably, still with us at age 88. Roeg's 1980 picture, Bad Timing, serves as the starting point for Fashionista, but the director's filmography in general is a helpful guide to Rumley's fractured narrative structure and sensory-driven editing.
Amanda Fuller, reuniting with the director after Red, White & Blue, to perhaps become his Theresa Russell, turns in a complex performance as April, a vintage clothing owner-operator in Austin, Texas. She lives in a supremely cool apartment with her husband and business partner Eric, who is played by the ever-ubiquitous Ethan Embry.
We do not get to see this amazing pad right away, due to the piles and piles of clothes the couple have strewn on every conceivable surface. Rumley shoots these scenes of chic-hoarding like a dimly lit nest; the couple snuggling under a single light in the center. It is perhaps the film's signature image. And it is a good one. The film will slowly undress this apartment, as it does April's psyche.
On the surface, this massive, unsorted clothing collection is just good business sense. The couple are about to open a second shop in Dallas and need the inventory. There is a dark side, however, of being beholden to too much stuff, insofar as it threatens to swallow everything.
Case in point: April takes forever to find specific items to wear for specific outings. She changes outfits close to 100 times over the course of the film's 110 minute runtime. Feel free to do the arithmetic on that. There is a smashingly good montage early in the film, a classic shot tracking behind the actress, divided into a dozen cuts each with a different outfit. It sets a cool rhythm the film then meticulously deconstructs and de-glamorizes.
A new girl at the shop sets off flames of jealousy, threatening her marriage, and the business. April's paranoia and anger leads her towards Randall, a wealthy advertising man with looks that straddle the in-between Christian Bale and Keanu Reeves. He seems to dabble as upscale pimp, and in shady finance, besides. If Eric and April are the fading grunge-vintage-hip of the Austin scene, Randall is the cold, monied gentrification of Texas' blue dot personified. His neoliberal tastes tend towards dark sexual games. His sterile living quarters are all stainless steel appliances, with a swanky swimming pool patio. He probably never uses either.
Randall gives April a few thousand dollars to 'upgrade' her wardrobe to a more 1-Percenter sensibility. This is also a gateway to his sinister sexual proclivities. Unmoored and increasingly unhinged -- is she a girlfriend or prostitute? -- April becomes desperate to go back to a simpler existence, even as she burns much of her clothing inventory along with any possibility of real intimacy.
Meanwhile, Eric's apartment is emptied of all the bric-a-brac threads to reveal expensive, over-sized vintage movie posters of The Night Porter, Berlin Alexanderplatz, Mad Max and possibly a Fellini film. Is Eric, in his sweet but insensitive way, similar enough to Randall?
The film does not go all the way with the duality, but it certainly has things to say about materialism, collecting-culture, and the often emptiness of style, be it lowbrow or highbrow.
The movie never dictates these things in a straightforward manner, it only shows. Add into the mix the tall, dark and thin Alex Essoe, who plays a seemingly unconnected, unnamed woman in the process of coming out of a mental hospital in a haze. Even a dedicated cinema-goer might get lost in the fractured structure and experimental shooting and lighting styles.
There are these superb time-lapses of April tossing and turning in her (various) sleeping locations. They are particularly exceptional and relatively lucid, but when juxtaposed with the out-of-order structure, it implies the film exists in a kind of pragmatic dream-state; a very Roeg headspace.
Fashionista demands a lot of its viewers. Like April, we have to wander lost for stretches of the movie, unclear of what place or time we are in at the moment. Cause and effect are just as easily effect and cause. It is the addict's nightmare, rendered only as cinema offer. Only here there are no drugs or needles, only the reflecting skin and masks we are inclined to slide over our bodies and retreat behind.