Liebestraum (1991)


(director/writer/music: Mike Figgis; cinematographer: Juan Ruiz Anchia; editor: Martin Hunter; cast: Kevin Anderson (Nick Kaminsky), Pamela Gidley (Jane Kessler), Bill Pullman (Paul Kessler), Kim Novak (Lillian Anderssen), Graham Beckel (Sheriff Ricker), Zach Grenier (Barnard Ralston IV), Taina Elg (Old Mother Ralston), Catherine Hicks (Mary Parker), Thomas Kopache (Dr. Parker); Runtime: 102; MGM; 1991)
“A pretentious thriller directed by Britisher Mike Figgis.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A pretentious thriller directed by Britisher Mike Figgis (“Stormy Monday) that starts off with an edge but somewhere at the halfway point it loses that edge.

The title is taken from the musical score by Franz Liszt, which is playing on a phonograph as a dancing couple is murdered some 38 years ago.

Nick Kaminsky (Kevin Anderson) is an architecture professor and architectural journalist, adopted as a child then orphaned. He is sent for by his real mother, Lillian Anderssen (Kim Novak), the one he never knew, because she wants to tell him a dark secret from the past. She’s in the hospital painfully dying in a far away town Nick is unfamiliar with called Elderstown.

On Main Street Nick admires Ralston’s cast-iron department store as it’s being razed. The store has been closed since an adulterous couple were murdered there in the early ’50s. His enthusiasm for the structure relates to the history it presents as the missing link in architecture. Its metal frame for the entire building allowed the support to come from the center and therefore one could build as high as one cares to — which resulted in the skyscraper.

Nick encounters a college friend from 10 years ago, Paul Kessler (Bill Pullman), who’s a real estate developer supervising the building’s demolition to put up a future shopping mall. When Nick saves Paul’s life by pushing him away from a heavy object that falls from the roof, he’s invited to his house party. There Nick meets the womanizer Paul’s attractive wife Jane (Pamela Gidley), a photographer who feels just as passionately as he does about buildings. Soon Jane and him will become passionate with each other, as they are mysteriously bound together by fate. The film will ask the question — Will history repeat itself? The current lovers hang around in the ruins of the jinxed cast-iron building until its last days, even when the violent secret from the past is revealed to Nick.

The film is let down by an uninteresting story that confusingly has Kim Novak on her death-bed or in flashback scenes when she was younger, but looking strangely out of place in both scenes. “Liebestraum” relies on plot twists to give its moody tale a payoff, but the surprise fails to be worth getting to. It’s a tough film to get into as the actors can’t cut through the story’s quagmire. Kevin Anderson is always brooding and introspective. Bill Pullman is the too obvious bad guy. Kim Novak is reduced to moaning in pain and dying. Pamela Gidley has a role where she’s not required to do much.

Figgis presents a film that relies on style over substance and fails to give the lust and jealousy story much weight, or the mystery much of a sparkle.