Movie Review: Apartment Zero (1988)

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Rating: B/  Colin Firth is an infinitely watchable lead. I have yet to see him give a performance I didn’t care for. Apartment Zero is one of his earlier roles, in which he plays a kind of Norman Bates incarnate, a uptight, somewhat simpering young man named Adrian DeLuc who is utterly disinterested in other people but endlessly fascinated by the old black-and-white films.

Adrian lives in Beunos Aries, Argentina, in an old tenement that he is the personal owner of. Initially displeased that he must rent out his crazy mother (Elvia Andreoli)’s room to a stranger, the latently homosexual DeLuca  changes his tune when he ends up screening Jack (Hart Bochner,) a rugged, confident, and effortlessly cool young man to be his roommate, and becomes besotted with him in the process.

For a while, both men are utterly pleased with the arrangement, until Adrian starts becoming jealous of how much his neighbors like Jack, and grows frustrated with Jack’s casual promiscuity (Jack enjoys the sexual company of both men and women,  whereas  Adrian cannot even admit his utter disinterest in women and seems to find other people generally repugnant.)

However, a series of odd events leave Adrian wondering if Jack is indeed the man he says he is, or if he is masking his true intentions and behind his ruggedly handsome exterior lies the heart of a killer. Of course no one would believe Adrian if he shared his suspicions with them, being a misanthrope and an outcast, so he decides to do a little digging of his own. Is Adrian simply nuts? Is Jack the person he seems to be? The endlessly neurotic Adrian is on the case.

    Apartment Zero is a very strange movie, with lots of claustrophobic close-ups and bizarre dialogue, offered by a plethora of eccentric characters. I really enjoyed Colin Firth’s character and all the film references featured within the script. There was one huge problem with this movie though, and the name of that problem was Hart Bochner. Bochner compensates for his apparent lack of stage presence or talent by taking off his shirt a lot and offering loads of smoldering looks. For someone who didn’t even find Bochner particularly appealing, I was pretty much fed up with his smoldering looks by the halfway point.

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You can see why Colin Firth had a long and illustrious career, even winning an Oscar for The King’s Speech in 2011, and hardly anyone knows Bochner’s name almost thirty years later. I know that’s harsh, but there you go. Overall this movie has kind of an exaggerated, over-the-top, dark comedy vibe, and it’s mostly pretty good. It’s a treat for film fans because of all the references to classic cinema DeLuca makes throughout the movie.

There are also some brilliant cinematic touches like the way when Jack enters the apartment, he is juxtaposed almost perfectly with a picture of one of De Luca’s favorite actors, James Dean. Simpering and misanthropy aside, Colin Firth is really cute in this movie, and he sells it despite the borderline ludicrous feeling the film has at times. It’s fun trying to figure out whether Firth’s character is batshit insane or if he’s on-target and it’s the rest of Jack’s admirers that are confused.

The homosexual elements of Apartment Zero are kind of subtle, with the exception of Adrian’s camp drag queen neighbor (James Telfer,) and the it is never outright said by anyone in the movie that De Luca is gay, but it’s fairly easy to infer from the bedroom eyes he is constantly giving Jack and the nonstop sexual tension that even if no actual sex is going on between them they’re probably, *wink* *wink* more than friends. I just never understood why Jack was so appealing to Adrian.

He was okay-looking, but charmless and devoid of real personality, and I found it hard to believe that Adrian would even consider running away with him after he found out the truth about him. I felt like Jack needed to be played by someone very sexy and dynamic, so we could really believe why everyone male and female was drooling over him throughout the entire movie. That smolder/ icky leer didn’t do it for me. Apartment Zero isn’t a great movie, it has a sort of absurdity with an absence of humor to it that leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth, but it’s a intriguingly dark psychosexual study of Firth’s character and it also never fails to be unpredictable, absurd and silly, yes, to some extent, but also  impossible to pigeonhole or easily categorize.

This movie might particularly be of interest to people who want to see a very young Colin Firth in an early role or people who like psychological thrillers that are kind of different, and not the PG-13 rated formulaic crap that passes for thrillers from the mainstream  production companies. Despite the presence of a well-loved star, this movie will probably only appeal to a small number of people. As far as I’m concerned, it’s weird, but it works. And despite some serious flaws, it does my weirdo little heart  proud.

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