(director/writer: Peter Mattei; screenwriter: inspired by Arthur Schnitzler’s play “La Ronde”; cinematographer: Stephen Kazmierski; editor: Myron I. Kerstein; music: Theodore Shapiro; cast: Steve Buscemi (Martin Kunkle), Carol Kane (Joey, phone psychic), Michael Imperioli (Will, bonds trader), Vera Farmiga (Greta, hooker), Domenick Lombardozzi (Eddie Iovine, construction worker), Jill Hennessy (Ellen Walker), Adrian Grenier (Nick), Rosario Dawson (Anna, the receptionist), Malcolm Gets (Robert Walker, art collector); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Gretchen McGowan/Joana Vicente/Jason Kliot/Robyn Alcock/Lisa Bellomo; ThinkFilm Inc.; 2002)
“The film was immensely enjoyable thanks to great performances by both Steve Buscemi and Rosario Dawson…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

“Love in the Time of Money” is an energetic indy shot on digital video in 23 days, and is directed and written by the former stage director Peter Mattei making his film debut. Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde is a 19th-century play set in Vienna at the turn of the century, but in the film adaptation the location is transferred to New York City at the turn of the 20th century. It’s a sexual roundelay — A trysts with B, B trysts with C, and so on. It’s about nine characters and their search of love, money, or sex, in this circular plotted tale. It starts with a hooker named Greta (Vera Farmiga) working the streets for the first time and a building contractor Eddie (Domenick Lombardozzi) cruising the deserted dimly lit street to become her first paying customer. He fails to get satisfaction from her because of his impotence and angrily refuses to pay her until she threatens to toss his car keys in the river. The film will end with the same two at the same spot, but with a different reaction from the now more experienced prostitute.

In the next scene Eddie is all business as he’s in the upscale apartment of a bored housewife, Ellen Walker (Jill Hennessy), who plans to create a plant nursery in her apartment complex. When she flirts with him, he responds by having uninspired sex on the ultra-modern couch. In the next scene the Walkers — Ellen and Robert (Malcolm Gets) — are entertaining his business friends with a fancy dinner party at their place. After the guests leave, she tells her wealthy art collector husband she wants other men and he tells her that he also wants other men. Robert has a crush on Martin Kunkle (Steve Buscemi), a struggling artist. The film’s funniest bit has Martin showing Robert his paintings of triangles and Robert is heaping praise on such a sorry spectacle and even promising a showing in an art gallery he’s a partner in. When Robert attempts to kiss Martin, he’s gently rebuffed by the middle-aged artist. Then Martin explains that he makes bad paintings as a subversive act to sneak them into galleries and sabotage the stuffy art world establishment. Robert tells him that I just want to kiss you, which doesn’t mean I’m gay. Martin exclaims, in the film’s most perfectly timed comical retort: “It seems you’re inclined in that direction.” Buscemi is brilliant in expressing himself by merely a glint in his eye or by raising an eyebrow, as he brings life to a part that doesn’t appear to be much on paper.

At the gallery showing his triangles Martin picks up the sultry Hispanic receptionist Anna (Rosario Dawson), who is at first hostile to his request to draw her nude. Both actors are very expressive and give pep to their roles, as she poses nude for him only when he agrees to draw her while he’s in his underwear and with the hand he never uses to draw. Anna’s slacker twentysomething boyfriend Nick (Adrian Grenier) returns from his San Francisco trip and is jealous that she made love to the older artist, as he comically grills her about all the details.

Nick is worried that Anna will drop him and confides all his problems to a 50ish actress and a hot-line phone psychic (Carol Kane) he met on a park bench, who has designs herself on the hunk. She brings him to a deserted boardwalk (it looked like Coney Island in the winter) and then back to her apartment. The unsophisticated Nick notices the stars for the first time, and declares “the reason people are so screwed up in the city is because they can’t see the stars.” Soon after Nick escapes from the psychic’s clutches and breaks her heart, she’s on the line with the depressive bank bond trader, Will (Michael Imperioli), who embezzled $78,000 and will be fired tomorrow and faces a prison term. She wants to keep talking to the potential suicide about his problems, but he wants to have phone sex with her or threatens to hang-up. When the psychic entered the pic the film seemed to lose energy and spontaneity, as her story though well-acted was poorly scripted–everything about it seemed contrived and stale.

The film’s most dramatic moral dilemma is presented when Will meets Greta and instead of asking for sex, he asks her to blow his brain outs with his pistol and he’ll give her the $48,000 he has in his attache case. He can’t face the music for his actions and is opting for the easy way out.

The film was immensely enjoyable thanks to great performances by both Steve Buscemi and Rosario Dawson, and the fine one by Adrian Grenier’s jerky characterization of a love struck street kid. It’s too bad the film got derailed by the too long scenes with the psychic and its inability to find a smooth way to end the film without feeling contrived. There were also too many close-up shots that soon belabored the initial point being made about how difficult it is to find any happiness in the big city, as most of the close-ups were of pained individuals. But the film is able to handily survive its somber ending and filmmaking faults, and is a superbly performed ensemble piece that is rewarding primarily for its entertainment value. It should also be noted that the film was made with the help of the Sundance people, who allowed the filmmaker use of their Utah Filmmaker’s Lab. That’s where they allowed the first-time filmmaker to go through a practice run of the film with their experts offering advice and they also provided support for the filmmaker to get help in funding his project. Sundance also featured the film at their festival, where it was picked up for a November theater release by the people at ThinkFilm. The ThinkFilm people consist of three principals that used to run Lions Gate Films but who started their own company this past year. So far, they have picked up half a dozen films.