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Empty Quarter

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An autobiographical fantasy from French photographer-documentarist Raymond Depardon (Reporters, Faits divers), about a photojournalist traveling in North Africa who becomes voyeuristically obsessed with an enigmatic young woman. There's something about the combination of voyeurism and languor in this that ought to be disturbing, but frankly I'm not complaining. It's a small masterpiece of a vaguely dissipated sort: part Antonioni's The Passenger, part Robert Montgomery's Lady in the Lake (the first-person camera, the narrator who never appears on screen), part structuralist travelogue, though Depardon's fantasy alter ego seems less Antoniennui-alienated than luxuriantly wound down, less anxiously probing eye than indolently staring one (the wake of a river steamer cuts the waters of the Nile, and Depardon's subjective camera follows it along passively: the image is sensuous, subtle . . . and only an Oblomov would bother to capture it). Eroticism mounts as the African landscape empties out, and sexual consummation is finally a desert--like the barren, abstract narration that surrounds the concrete imagery (the tension between image and language is the dominant subtext here). It's old orientalist romance with a 20th-century manner: precise, sensual, and exquisitely exhausted. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday and Saturday, July 10 and 11, 6:00, 443-3737)

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