Monday, February 9, 2009

Nirvana (Italy, 1996)

A music video to the film:

Long-Island born and European-raised actor Christopher Lambert had already had a number of small parts in European films prior to his much publicised introduction to international audiences as the title character in Hugh Hudson’s Greystroke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984/trailer). Since then, the steadily employed actor has shown himself to either have the worst taste in scripts or a lousy agent, for though he has consistently top billed a variety of films over the last two generations, his name has become a definite synonym for trash — and not very good trash at that, either. Even when working with directors like Luc Besson (Subway (1985)), Michael Cimino (The Sicilian (1987)) or Stuart Gordon (Fortress (1993/trailer)), the end product has always been one of the worst films in the respective director’s career. To give credit where credit is due, Russell Mulcahy’s Highlander (1986/trailer) was enjoyable enough, but the three sequels since then are nothing less than evidence of a complete lack of pride (or perhaps a drug addiction) on Lambert’s part, as is his participation in Fortress II:Re-entry (1999/trailer). Truth be told, Lambert seems to be well on his way towards becoming the Robert Vaughn of the future: a familiar (expressionless) face and name that occasionally does something good but whom, all in all, stands for "this film sucks."
Keeping that in mind, it is understandable that few people bothered to go see
Nirvana during its limited release, despite its fab poster (at least here in Europe) of a Photoshop-enhanced, bare-breasted Tantric Goddess Kali with an obscenely long tongue. What a damned shame, actually, for Nirvana is probably one of the best films that Lambert has ever starred in — and a really excellent film to boot.
A cyberpunk science fiction film along the lines of Robert Longo’s Johnny Mnemonic (1995/trailer) or Brett Leonard’s Virtuosity (1995/trailer), peppered liberally with Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982/trailer) and featuring visual references to films as separate as Cimano’s The Deer Hunter (1978) and Steven Lisberger’s Tron (1982/trailer), this budget-constrained film is a labor of love from a well informed filmmaker not afraid to throw in everything in the book and a few things more. Italian Gabriele Salvatores manages to infuse a relatively worn out idea with enough wit, flare, detail and speed that Nirvana definitely becomes a greater sum than its parts; the final result is a film that grows onto one slowly, forever gaining more and more of the viewer’s interest, until suddenly one is completely involved in all that is happening.
As Salvatores has explained (and as is obvious in the film), the title Nirvana refers not just to the computer game featured in the story, but is also a direct reference to the Hindu philosophy itself, in which "reality" is considered to be a type of illusion, a tertiary and ephemeral level that has to be gone through to reach perfection, or Nirvana. Just like in computer games, including the one in the movie, one continuously repeats this (earthly) level until one has learned from and corrected all one’s mistakes. Throughout the film there are many parallels made to connect this philosophy to the structure of cyberspace and computer games.... in fact, by the end of the film, many good arguments present themselves that the "real world" in the film is actually as much of an artificial world as that of the "cyber world" of the computer game around which Nirvana’s plot is built.
Initially, the editing structure of Nirvana leads to some confusion about what is happening, but once the film gets underway, everything begins to make sense. Nirvana tells the story of computer game designer Jimi Dini (Christopher Lambert), a dissatisfied and unhappy man still suffering the loss of his last girlfriend Lisa (Emmanuelle Seigner, Roman Polanski’s wife in real life, seen here in a photo that is not from the film), who left him a year before in 2004. Three days before Christmas, the day Nirvana, the game he has designed for the multinational Okosama Starr Corporation is set to go on sale, Jimi plugs in for one last check of the product. To his astonishment, he finds that his computer has been infected by a virus that has given the game’s hero Solo (Diego Abatantuono) consciousness. Solo, realizing that he is merely a computer-generated figure that is doomed to continuously relive everything ad nauseam, bids Jimi to free him by destroying Nirvana’s program. The problem is, the master copy of the game is in the Okosama Starr databank, and to comply fully with Solo’s request for deliverance, Jimi must hack into the databank, something he can’t do alone. Driven by both a desire to free Solo and locate his beloved Lisa, Jimi leaves the safe haven of Centre for the dangers of the first of many multi-cultural slums, Marakesh. Tailed by a minion of the corporation (Harukiko Yamanouchi), Jimi teams up with a permanently broke, motor-mouthed Hacker named Joystick, a friend of Lisa’s with whom she briefly stayed after she left Jimi. Joystick, who has sold his corneas and now can only see in B&W through cheap, second-rate implants accompanies Jimi onwards to Bombay City in the search of a Hacker good enough to get into Okosama Starr’s database. Along the way, they team up with Naima (Stefania Rocca), a rambunctious drug-happy young woman with nice (and seemingly real) breasts, blue hair and a downloading device built into her forehead but no memories, having had them all erased the year before due to her hacking activities in the past. These events and all that come are interspersed with Solo’s world, in which, when he isn’t getting blown away, he is continuously trying to convince various other characters that they are all just artificial creations inhabiting a computer world.....
The world as pictured in Nirvana is pretty much Blade Runner times five but with less money, and the story is as complicated as it is illogical, but what first comes across as major flaws, when added up later with the overall sequence of events, visuals and ending, only serves to underscore Salvatores’ continuous flirting with the question of what is and what isn’t real. While never completely stated in the film, clues are planted throughout Nirvana that tend to make one think that this is less a film taking place in a future gone wrong then it is a computer game being successfully played from beginning to end. Could it be that Jimi is as unreal as Solo? The question is never completely answered....
Special credit must be given Fabrizio Donvito and the firm Digitalia Graphics, who are credited as having done the digital effects for the film. They are both creative and masterful, and add immensely to the overall strength of the film.

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