Liebestraum (1991)

In the wake of the release of the Twin Peaks blu-ray box set, we decided to keep things Lynchian and watch this flick Liebestraum. It’s not directed by David Lynch, but Mike Figgis employed a little bit of Lynch’s magic when filming it, for sure; there’s a weird, dream-like quality throughout (makes sense I guess, since Liebestraum means ‘love dream’ in German). It helps too that the female lead is played by Pamela Gidley; you probably know her better as Teresa Banks.

So, there’s this guy named Nick (Kevin Anderson). He’s got a face that kinda looks like a toad. He’s an architecture professor, or something; I don’t know, he writes books about buildings. He’s come to a small town in Illinois because his birth mother (Kim Novak), whom he’s never met before, is dying of cancer. While walking around town, he bumps into an old school chum of his, Paul (Bill Pullman). Paul’s a big shot who owns a company that’s going to demolish a building that was once a department store. This particular building is one of the first to be made with a steel foundation, so Nick finds it fascinating and can’t believe a fellow architect is so gleefully willing to tear it down.

Looming mannequins are the only thing to populate this abandoned building.

Looming mannequins are the only thing to populate this abandoned building.

Turns out there is more to the building than its foundation; it has a seedy history from which the department store could never recover. A few decades prior, a nasty murder-suicide took place there involving the owner and his wife. As a result, the store never reopened and the building has simply stood there taking up space for the last thirty years or so.

Even after learning the story behind the department store’s demise, Nick still thinks the building should be preserved as a landmark. As a compromise, Paul grants Nick access to the building while they prepare for its demolition so he can get a feel for it and write a story about it. Paul has this great suggestion, too: perhaps his wife Jane (Gidley) could photograph it for him? Yeah, that’s a great idea, it’s not like Nick and Jane will end up boning while Paul’s out of town on business or anything, right?

Nick and Jane

Nick and Jane

And so, the rest of the film is really watching grown adults make very bad decisions. Jane and Nick bone while Nick’s mother’s health continues to decline. Paul expects something fishy is going on, in fact, it is almost like he set it up to happen. Why did Paul think it would be a good idea to have Nick and Jane alone together in that big, dark, cursed building while he’s outta town? It’s almost as if the building wanted them to get together; as if it somehow possessed Paul to suggest a potentially fiery situation…

I must say, I really did not care for this movie very much at all. It had some good ideas, but these characters didn’t seem like real people; they’re all totally unlikable, selfish assholes. I’m not sure if that is because the building itself is actually exerting an influence on these people, and they can’t be held completely responsible for their behavior, but that connection is never explicitly made and perhaps isn’t implicit enough for me to believe that was Figgis’ intent. But hell, maybe it was, at any rate, I still find it hard to care about what assholes are doing, driven by unseen forces or no. I guess it doesn’t help that Kevin Anderson is absolutely unbearable to watch; It’s like he’s trying to squeeze out a turd before he delivers every line. His expression is almost pained for most of the film, but not quite; it doesn’t seem like he can actually get up the gumption to show any emotion whatsoever.

Love dream indeed

Love dream indeed

The plot does do some interesting things that I can’t exactly talk about here because I don’t want to ruin the whole thing for you. And Figgis is very good at creating a spooky, mysterious atmosphere (the mannequins certainly do a bit of heavy lifting). So, the film is not a total loss, I can even understand why some folks would find it good, but I really just couldn’t get over the stupid decisions these people were making; I found it kind of exhausting and exasperating to watch.

The most interesting thing about Liebestraum is that the best scene in this movie is deleted! Q saw this first on videocassette, which includes the full version of the film. For the DVD, I’m not sure why (rating, perhaps?) this scene was entirely cut out. Luckily it is included as an extra, and it is one scene that makes a whole world of difference in the tone and meaning of the film. I really wonder how different my feelings for the film would be had we watched the unedited version. If you can get your hands on that version, it’s definitely preferable to the DVD version we watched.



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