Female Perversions

on April 25, 1997 by Kim Williamson
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Only glancingly a narrative piece, "Female Perversions" adapts a nonfiction book by Freudian therapist Louise Kaplan called "Female Perversions: The Temptations of Emma Bovary." Emma makes no appearance here, except in general distaff psychology; instead, director/co-scripter Susan Streitfeld attempts to mine the innards of the female head with a variety of storytelling devices available to the camera. These include dream sequences, wish fulfillments and general symbolic bric-a-brac. Streitfeld is only fitfully successful.
   Part of the fault lies with characterization, such as it is. Tilda Swinton ("Orlando") stars as Eve, a high-powered lawyer who's being considered for a judgeship. Her sister, Madelyn ("Places in the Heart's" Amy Madigan), is a longtime Ph.D. candidate. But neither character is believable: Shown in the courtroom only once, where she seems ineffectual in communicating, Eve is so high-strung and offkeel emotionally that, were she a man, she would likely take to a rooftop with a rifle; Madelyn, a better shoplifter than a collegian, is so resolutely sour and angry one could only pray her doctoral thesis would fail, to save hundreds of students the pain of the lower education she'd surely provide. So intent is she on expressing the internals in her film, Streitfeld forgets to do anything right with the externals, which is where movies begin.
   Still, some of Streitfeld's imagery is diverting, and occasionally even thought-provoking in a way that's rare in contemporary cinema, even of the independent variety. As a lesbian lover of Eve's, the always excellent Karen Sillas ("What Happened Was...") seems ready to go where no woman has gone before for Streitfeld, but she's left marooned, looking for a movie. Starring Tilda Swinton, Amy Madigan and Karen Sillas. Directed by Susan Streitfeld. Written by Susan Streitfeld and Julie Hebert. Produced by Mindy Affrime. An October Films release. Drama. Rated R for intense depictions of psychoerotic themes, scenes of strong sexuality and strong language. Running time: 114 min. Opens 11/8 NY/LA.
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