Demi Moore's in a good film. Not just a good film, but a non-Hollywood, cerebral art film at that. Pigs must be flying somewhere. NIt's been three years since Moore last appeared on- screen, aggressive as all get out in the self-serving G.I. Jane. Since then, she's discreetly separated from Bruce Willis, produced a well-reviewed HBO movie about abortion (If These Walls Could Talk), guest-edited an issue of Jane and promoted a friend's New Agey book about intuition.
In short, she's withdrawn from the spotlight and mellowed out. So it's not a complete shock that she quietly took her three daughters to France and made a mellow film with Belgian director Alain Berliner.
Tender tale Berliner previously directed Ma Vie En Rose, a simple, tender tale about a young boy who thinks he's a girl. An identity crisis is also at the centre of Passion Of Mind, though it's less simple, and less effective.
Moore plays Marie, a widowed book reviewer raising her daughters in southern France. When Marie falls asleep, she wakes up as Marty, a single literary agent in New York. Then Marty falls asleep and wakes up as Marie again.
Sounds like an ideal double life, doesn't it? Problem is, Marie/Marty can't tell which life is real and which is the dream.
Everyone in both lives, including her shrinks, insists the other is a delusion.
The problem with the film is that Marie/Marty doesn't do much beyond talking to shrinks to solve this predicament.
Why doesn't Marie try pinching herself? Why doesn't Marty get on a plane and fly to France to meet her alter ego? Or better yet, just call her up? Why doesn't either woman accept the situation and have some fun with it?
All the good alternate-reality movies, from Sliding Doors to Groundhog Day, avoid explaining the twist. Passion Of Mind, on the other hand, spells it out at the end, and it's too pat. But if Passion Of Mind doesn't quite work as a metaphysical exercise, it does a bang-up job as a romantic melodrama.
Into the lives of Marie/Marty come two appealing, well-rounded men played by William Fichtner (Go, Contact) and Stellan Skarsgård (Good Will Hunting, Breaking The Waves). Both are instantly devoted, which means both lives must be dreams. (Just kidding.)
Both men are also intelligent and interesting enough to make up for the plot's weaknesses. Skarsgård plays a novelist whose last work Marie panned. He falls for her anyway, but retains an endearing fear of her opinion. When he learns about her other life, he admits that his first selfish thought is jealousy over "this other guy."
Fichtner, by contrast, is an edgy accountant who likes to keep the upper hand. When they start to get serious, he warns that he won't commit until she solves her problem, because he fears for their future children.
These details make Passion Of Mind smarter than it looks. It's worth seeing for the subtle way the romances unfold.
And it's nice to see Moore finally relax.
PASSION OF MIND, directed by Alain Berliner, written by Ron Bass and David Field, produced by Carole Scotta, Tom Rosenberg and Ron Bass, with Demi Moore, Stellan Skarsgård and William Fichtner. 105 minutes. Opens Friday (June 2). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 158. Rating: NNN