Celebrity

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Movie directors, singing nuns, obese teenage acrobats, the Trump Casino, celebrity journalists, overweight achievers, the Trump Marina Hotel, the Sorokko Gallery in Soho, the Jean-Georges Restaurant, hookers, publishers, women over 40 in desperate need of plastic surgery, movie stars, off-off-Broadway directors, supermodels and the silver screen. That's the fauna -- and flora -- of Woody Allen's Celebrity, a film shot in black and white which relies heavily on architecture to convey a certain end-of-the-century malaise, a melancholy background feeling, a ridiculous emptiness of the spirit punctuated by the occasional witty line.

Celebrity questions, with renewed cynicism, Warhol's prediction that, in time, everyone would enjoy 15 minutes of fame. "That's one of those things that sounds great, but has nothing to do with reality," says Allen. An acute observer of people's idiosyncrasies, Allen succeeds -- in this utterly idiosyncratic film -- to sketch a veritable pathology of fame. We are what we celebrate, the film announces in discreetly disconnected episodes whose protagonists have fallen in love with their reflection in the mirror.

In its tormented, repetitive portrayal of romantic longing, Celebrity is, indeed, a Woody Allen film which revels in its bankruptcy of character. But the little neurotic man we've grown so accustomed to -- here Lee Simon, the celebrity journalist -- is, for once, played by someone other than Allen. In Kenneth Branagh's interpretation, Simon adds a touch of mockery to the film's self-reflexive pose: After all, to see Branagh playing Allen playing himself is a rare treat.

Celebrities (Melanie Griffith, Judy Davis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Winona Ryder) wander in and out of the movie with a more or less vague idea of the storyline. To increase the fractured feeling of each encounter, Allen gives the actors only those pages of the script that pertain to their characters. For the most part, people meet in this film as they would at a party: They exchange polite, passionate or pathetic lines and leave.

The detachment the audience feels at the end proves that Celebrity has achieved its goal: the 15 minutes of fame are, indeed, ephemeral. But the thought of a superficial society prostrated before superficial celebrities enjoying superficial moments of glamour is frightening, uncomical and dark.

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