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Art squares off against commerce, brother against brother, in this satirical look at age-old conflicts. Set in the uber-hip galleries and lofts of Lower Manhattan, “(Untitled)” assembles a collection of vivid character-types, sometimes a breath short of caricature. But for all its sharp comic angles, Jonathan Parker’s film takes its central questions seriously and avoids the pat follow-your-bliss answers Hollywood prefers.
The script by Parker and Catherine di Napoli presents a less-than-indelible story but gets the details right as it delves into the business of art and the politics of aesthetic fashion. Opening Oct. 23, the Samuel Goldwyn release is a good fit for New York and Los Angeles art houses.
Adam Goldberg is the picture of self-serious gloom as Adrian, a musician of the atonal school who scowls even in posters meant to promote his New Sound Ensemble, a trio as humorless as its name suggests. Shrieks and sobs, chains and buckets punctuate the group’s cacophony. Adrian has given himself three years to make it, though what that means is open to debate, considering that his attitude toward the handful of people who endure his performances is not mere disdain but outright hostility. His gig playing tasteful dinner piano at a posh restaurant is just a ticking time bomb.
Spurring on Adrian’s quest for recognition is the runaway success of his brother, Josh (Eion Bailey), a painter whose pastel abstracts are selling like hotcakes for hotel lobbies and hospitals.
As in any self-respecting tale of ideals colliding with the marketplace, a deal with the devil is in store. The deal-maker takes the form of Madeleine (an outstanding performance by Marley Shelton). An ice-cool gallery owner who favors clothes made from noisy fabrics, she has strung along the earnest Josh, who tries in vain to woo her with chevre and Syrah, but her interest in him is strictly mercenary. She sells his commercial art (the term is meant as slander) out of the back room to bankroll the storefront where she showcases “purer,” more challenging pieces.
Among her faves is Ray Barko (Vinnie Jones), a mad conceptual-art genius whose Damien Hirst-reminiscent work combines taxidermy and household appliances. She’s taken with Adrian’s music and wants to make him a star. Oblivious to the attentions of his bandmate known only as the Clarinet (Lucy Punch), Adrian becomes involved with Madeleine and does his best to follow her plan to put him on the map.
Like much of the art it features, “(Untitled)” doesn’t get under the skin so much as provoke questions. Within their assigned roles in the discussion, the characters are complex and conflicted. Adrian wants to be heard, not just righteous. Josh wants to be a great artist, not just rich. Madeleine won’t sell her prized pieces to a diversifying investor (Zak Orth) who has no passion for them.
The devil’s bargain plays out in the self-conscious spaces of Chelsea, captured in crisp and gleaming widescreen by cinematographer Svetlana Cvetko. The metallic clang of David Lang’s inventive score is a vital component.
Opens: Friday, Oct. 23 (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
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