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STIGMATA

SYNOPSIS:
Twenty year old hairdresser Frankie Paige (Patricia Arquette) leads an ordinary kind of life. A little wild perhaps, but nothing too unusual. One day her mother sends her a gift from her travels in Brazil. A rosary. Suddenly Frankie's ordinary life is turned upside down. Painful wounds begin to appear. The doctors and psychiatrists can't explain what's happening to her. Friends and workmates abandon her. No-one can help until the Vatican sends a special priest, Andrew Kiernan (Gabriel Byrne) to investigate this Christ mirroring phenomena. But Kiernan is fighting his own battle within the Church.

"Cinematically enthralling, Stigmata is an absorbing mystery thriller with intriguing elements. A very visual film, the style and cinematography alone will blow you away in a thrill ride of the imagination. From the tantalising opening credits that combine historic, mystical and contemporary components, to the chilling and eclectic soundtrack, your senses will be satiated. We are swept into a world of muted colours, deep monotones and an abundance of visual complexities. Eyelashes fill the screen like a butterfly poised for flight; lips, sensuous, searching for fulfillment.

The close ups are breathtaking. Serenity is juxtapositioned with frenzied anxiety, faith with skepticism. We are surrounded by terrifying claustrophobia and fear of the unknown, the unexplained and unimaginable. Beyond the look and at the heart of the film's pulse are strong performances by a top cast. Patricia Arquette and Gabriel Byrne are class acts, exuding charisma and great screen chemistry. Arquette (beautiful through all her ordeals) is strong in a gutsy, energetic role with a feminine vulnerability that makes her totally credible. Byrne is always an interesting actor he is expert at nuance and detail. Good to see Jonathan Pryce in a juicy role as the power hungry church official.

If the topic of the Dead Sea Scrolls fascinates you (is the bible fact or fairytale?), you'll be intrigued, and horror fans will be wide eyed at the exorcism scenes. Not that you have to know anything at all about religion to enjoy this film. But don't analyse the plot details too closely.

It would be easy to critically dissect some plot aspects; you could be excused for being confused at why goodness should manifest itself as evil personified. And there's a bit of overkill here and there. But that aside, Stigmata is a mesmerising, explosive cinematic experience. Be possessed."
Louise Keller

"Stigmata tackles a fascinating subject - fascinating to some, like me, who find the historic and mythical stories about Jesus one of the great riddles of history. Hidden behind veils of superstition plus religious and dramatic symbolism, the man and his actions have reverberated through 2000 years and show no sign of withering into silence. Embedded within the history of Christianity are some of the most exotic fantasies ever dreamt up by man - or woman. Stigmaticism is one. But I admit the subject has little mass market appeal - unless of course it is dressed up in the clothes of cinematic FX, which is what this film does, expressly for the purpose of seducing the masses.

There is rich irony here, since it was this very premise that drove Jesus to invent a fabulous fairytale of miracles and message symbols in order to communicate his ideals to an illiterate, uneducated and deeply religious, superstitious following. But let's get back to the movie; its very strengths are its weaknesses.

First, the stigmata FX: over-produced and hacked into frenzied sequences of noise and confused image, these cheat us of involvement by being totally impenetrable. The gravity of the topic is mistrusted by the filmmakers, who opt for sensationalism of a simplistic kind, when they are handling sensational material that needs no embellishment. It ends up far too heavy handed and silly as a result.

The camerawork is often breathtaking; here and there it approaches a masterpiece in the making, both in terms of the use of lighting - or rather, the use of shadows and darkness - and in terms of points of view and perspective. The camera becomes a real player in the film. But sometimes, this, too, suffers from contrivance. (As in a couple of shots of blood dripping into still water, inserted more for 'look how great this is' instead of serving the film, and defying the dislexic jump cutting.)

Finally, the script muddles and mixes its potent forces to the extent that good and evil are indistinguishable and our hold on the proceedings is shaken by convulsions as great as poor Patricia Arquette's. Stigmata is an exciting and novel visual trip that almost survives its own weight but is let down by trying too hard to be populist.

Fascinating, yes; engaging, sometimes; brilliant, fleetingly; annoying, occasionally."
Andrew L. Urban

"Nowhere in the production notes does it say that this saga is a comedy. Nor does it say it's a parody of the genre. But it sure is difficult to take this effort by "acclaimed commercial and music video director", Rupert Wainwright, with any degree of seriousness. It wouldn't even make a list of worst films of all time as it is not interestingly bad, just turgid.

If a film starts with its concept, this one's in trouble from the beginning. Is it a story of evil and corruption within the Catholic Church or is it the story of an ordinary woman overtaken by extraordinary circumstances? Wainwright, along with writers Tom Lazarus and Rick Ramage have tried for both and succeeded in neither, utterly failing to mesh the two components of the story.

Lazarus and Ramaga have also been responsible for some of the clunkiest exposition we've heard in recent times. They may as well have sat us down and said 'now for a brief history of the bible and the Catholic Church'. Come to think of it, they did. Wainwright ably demonstrates here what a fine commercial and video director he must be. He has all the groovy flashy shots and short sequences hold together well. But he has neither the stamina or the depth that a feature film director requires.

The film's two stars do nothing to help this effort either. Patricia Arquette is a charisma free zone, while Gabriel Byrne seems to rely solely on his charisma and good looks without the hint of an emotion in sight. Jonathon Pryce plays a pretty good bad guy but his performance alone is not enough to save this mish mash of mulch."
Lee Gough

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 1

TRAILER

STIGMATA
(US)

CAST: Patricia Arquette, Gabriel Byrne, Jonathan Pryce, Nia Long, Thomas Kopache, Rade Sherbedgia, Enrico Colantoni, Dick Latessa, Portia de Rossi

DIRECTOR: Rupert Wainwright

PRODUCER: Frank Mancuso Jr

SCRIPT: Tom Lazurus and Rick Ramage

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jeffrey L. Kimball ASC

EDITOR: Michael R. Miller A.C.E., Michael J. Duthie

MUSIC: Billy Corgan and Elia Cmiral (additional music by Mike Garson)

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Waldemar Kalinowski

RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 20, 1999

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: August 23, 2000







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