Director : Anna Cholodenko
With : Ally Sheedy, Radha Mitchell
Like most drug-art oriented films, (think “Drugstore Cowboy” “Sweet Nothing” “Sid & Nancy” “Gridlock’d”) “High Art” isn’t what you’d call a lighthearted film, but it is both a bold and entertaining first feature. It’s a movie that manages to capture both the fickle workings of the New York art world and the desperate gloom and lethargy of heroin culture. The film follows a once famous photographer named Lucy Berliner (Ally Sheedy) and a young ambitious photo editor named Syd (Radha Mitchell) who works at the ultra-hip photo magazine called Frame, into what becomes one of the more intense relationships of the year. What follows is a heady exploration of sex, drugs and the price of celebrity.
The two characters meet when Syd appears at Lucy’s door because of a leak that she suspects is coming from her neighbor’s bathroom. After exchanging pleasantries Syd is introduced to Lucy’s lover, a wasted looking ex-Fassbinder actress and her group of junkie artist friends. The young and fragile Syd who is making her own professional waves, seems bored by her boyfriend, and transfixed by the mystery and seduction given off by Lucy.
Directed with a real feel for the pulse of art culture, director Cholodenko has written a sharp screenplay that constantly pierces the thin skin of modern day pop culture. Everything about this film seems bold and confident. From the many vulnerable facial close-ups to the unflinching portrayal of the devastation of heroin addiction, Cholodenko forces the viewer to look into people’s eyes to see the truth. The film is really a specific examination of personal will. The central characters are seen attempting to come to terms with their desires involving love, drugs, friendship, ambition and all the compromises that come with having these things. Like any movie that doesn’t hope to make the audience laugh or smile the inevitable melodrama can feel, at times forced, but Ally Sheedy and Radha Mitchell deliver performances that are unquestionably believable. This is a film to admire.