Alan Ru-dolph believes in the logic of randomness. Chance encounters, coincidence and intersecting destinies play a big part in his films, which often seem less like movies than waking dreams.
His latest, Afterglow, serves as a bookend to one of his best films, Choose Me (1984). While Choose Me is about the moment passion ignites, Afterglow is concerned with stoking the embers that remain after love has flickered out.
Afterglow puts two couples on a collision course that forces them out of their all-too-familiar ruts. The long-married Lucky (Nick Nolte) and Phyllis (Julie Christie) seem to have given up caring about things such as infidelity or assigning blame. Lucky's an independent contractor, a handyman whose primarily female clientele appreciates more than his agility with tools. Phyllis, once a B-movie actress, stays home and watches herself on late-night television through a haze of self-pity.
Contrasting their comfortable resentment is the sharp-edged hostility growing in the still-young marriage of Jeffrey (Jonny Lee Miller) and Marianne (Lara Flynn Boyle). Jeffrey is a white-collar shark who sees the corporate ladder as something to be scaled like Mt. Everest. Marianne, trapped in a painfully chic apartment that's as cold and sterile as her marriage, longs to have a child.
Writer-director Rudolph engineers a swap where the frustrated Marianne takes up with the willing Lucky and, not knowing the connection, Jeffrey eyes Phyllis, who still radiates star power (as does Christie who got an Oscar nomination for this role), as his latest conquest.
With longtime collaborator Mark Isham's jazzy score setting the pace, Rudolph lets his story leisurely unfold, giving each actor enough breathing room to fully inhabit a character. He also makes excellent use of Montreal, showing not just the city's beauty but how isolating it is for these four English-speaking outsiders.
In Afterglow, the women are defined by their past or future while the men are rooted in the present. While guiding his characters through their re-examinations of love, Alan Rudolph emphasizes the importance of finding a balance between all three tenses.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com.