Total Eclipse

on November 03, 1995 by Ed Scheid
   Screened at Telluride. Of the two upcoming period films scripted by Christopher Hampton and about unconventional relationships between artists, "Total Eclipse" is significantly less successful than "Carrington." Here, the dissipated French poet Paul Verlaine (David Thewlis) in flashback recalls his meeting in 1871 Paris with Arthur Rimbaud (Leonardo DiCaprio), whose poetry would eclipse Verlaine's work, and his subsequent involvement with the unconventional young man. First seen at age 16, Rimbaud is often obnoxious, with a juvenile urge to shock. He publicly insults poets during readings, even urinating from the table. Eventually, Rimbaud and the married Verlaine become lovers. Because very little of either man's poetry is used in the script, there is no evidence of what made either man an artist, how Rimbaud took poetry in a new direction or how they did their best work together.
   The script is full of sarcastic wit during the often venomous exchanges between the two writers, but the film doesn't give any real sense of the intense bond that keeps drawing the two together. In its place, there's just a series of sadomaso-chistic exchanges. Director Agnieszka Holland ("The Secret Garden") paces everything at a fever pitch: Rimbaud stabs Verlaine's hand with a knife; Verlaine shoots a bullet into Rimbaud's hand; Verlaine kicks his young pregnant wife ("The Accompanist's" Romane Bohringer) and burns her hair. He's still physically attracted to her, but he feels they have nothing in common. She threatens divorce because of his long absences to be with Rimbaud but is always ready to take him back, despite the abuse. Ver-laine does periodically return, but the pull of Rimbaud overtakes him and he follows him across the Continent.
   DiCaprio ("The Basketball Diaries") and Thewlis ("Naked") are adequate handling a script that lacks subtlety and motivation. That the period details of 19th- century Europe and the cinematography are the most effective elements of this biography evidences the film's overall disappointment.    Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, David Thewlis and Romane Bohringer. Directed by Agnieszka Holland. Written by Christopher Hampton. Produced by Jean-Pierre Ramsay. A Fine Line release. Drama. Rated R for strong sexuality and nudity, language, and some startling violence. Running time: 110 min.
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