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Apartment Zero
1989 - R - 124 Mins.
Director: Martin Donovan
Producer: Martin Donovan
Written By: Martin Donovan, David Koepp
Starring: Colin Firth, Hart Bochner
Review by: Harrison Cheung
An independent film from 1989 is now available on DVD. ‘Apartment Zero’ stars Colin Firth (‘Bridget Jones’, ‘Love Actually’) and Hart Bochner (‘PCU,’ ‘Die Hard’) in a twisted movie-lover’s delight that’s unforgettably perverse. Hard to categorize, this movie is one part film noir, one part political thriller, one part black comedy, and another part serial killer all rolled into a highly entertaining ride.

A film festival favorite, ‘Apartment Zero’ was co-written and directed by Martin Donovan who went on to write the underrated black comedy ‘Death Becomes Her.’ Donovan’s collaborator, David Koepp, went on to write ‘Stir of Echos,’ ‘Spiderman,’ and ‘Panic Room.’ Firth stars as Adrian, a majorly repressed, anal-retentive cinephile who finds he must take in a boarder to make ends meet. Imagine Niles from ‘Frasier’ and you’ll get an idea of what Adrian is like. He has a fabulously dark and gloomy Hitchcockian apartment (Apartment Zero) in a rustic old neighborhood in Buenos Aires, which he shared with his mother who is now ailing in an asylum.

Adrian, who runs a dying repertoire theater and bemoans the impact of the video store on his business, avoids his nosey neighbors and is fussy about tidiness, cleanliness and timeliness. This is a guy who irons his underwear and worries constantly over the placement of a fork. He’s also a master at movie trivia and brutally unforgiving for those who cannot match his memory or recall. (See ‘The Simpsons’ comic book storeowner for reference).

After a hilarious sequence of vignettes where he interviews potential roommates (reminiscent of a scene in ‘Shallow Grave’), Adrian meets Jack (Bochner), a handsome visiting American computer programmer with a leather jacket-James Dean swagger. Adrian is smitten and thrilled when Jack moves in with him.

There’s a lot at work in ‘Apartment Zero.’ On the surface, it’s a murder mystery. Donovan introduces a gallery of odd characters – everyone in the apartment building is an oddity – like an old Agatha Christie movie. We have two spinsters, a bisexual gigolo, a transvestite, and a wildly insecure lonely housewife who could be channeling Isabella Rossellini from ‘Blue Velvet.’ But one of them is a serial killer as we see the daily newspapers headline a climbing body count – victims of apparently political assassination.

Colin Firth is excruciatingly effective as the fawning Adrian. He is clearly attracted to Jack but the movie toys with the attraction, letting the audience wonder if the attraction is sexual, obsessively psychotic, or is Jack simply the embodiment of Adrian’s favorite movie heroes.

Hart Bochner, a Canadian actor who’s never really broken out, is incredibly magnetic and sexual as Jack, with all the big stud swagger that should have made him a star. Immensely confident, he is the opposite of Adrian and he uses his considerable desirability to tease everyone in the apartment building, absorbing and reflecting fears and wants. It’s an amazing performance of seduction.

Both Adrian and Jack are wearing masks – a re-occurring theme throughout the film. Adrian, who is clearly wound way too tightly and has major Oedipal issues, becomes increasingly psychotic and paranoid. He seethes with jealousy when he sees Jack socializing with the neighbors. And Jack seems to have a couple skeletons in his own closet as the audience discovers that he may not be a computer programmer.

Set in post-junta Argentina, ‘Apartment Zero’ is an intriguing film because it’s smart and enjoyable on so many levels. Beautifully shot in Buenos Aires, a location that sadly doesn’t turn up in a lot of movies, it is a deliciously wicked drama with a European look that pays homage to Hitchcock and invites the audience to imagine ‘The Odd Couple’ in a warped and sinister universe.

‘Apartment Zero’ was nominated for Best Film at Sundance and it won Best Film at the Seattle Film Festival and the Cognac Festival du Film.
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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