S1M0NE (  )

American audiences didn’t warm to this quirky little tale, possibly because they are smarting over accusations that the States is responsible for the global dumbing-down of cinema and this movie attempts – nay, succeeds – in being rather brighter than most.

S1M0NE is the story of a Hollywood director who, edged out by his studio, producer and star, claws his way back on the back of his new starlet – a blonde beauty named Simone – who has never before made a movie and who takes Tinseltown by storm.

Yet Simone does not exist, and never has. She’s the perfect actress created by desperate Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino on fine comedic form) from within the innards of his supercomputer. In fact she’s a little bit of all the great beauties of the past, but she exists only within Viktor’s computer, and that’s the way he likes it. For Simone read S1M0NE – aka simulation one. Hollywood is hooked.

This is a magnificent satire on the superficiality of Hollywood and the fickle nature of fame. How many filmmakers have been in Viktor’s shoes, battling with studio pressure, producers with an eye on saving a dollar, and temperamental stars? And how many of them have wished they could ditch the lot for an easy life?

Viktor’s virtual star, created with the help of a dying computer genius (a memorable cameo from Elias Koteas), becomes the toast of Hollywood and overnight turns Viktor’s career around. He has created – quite literally – the biggest star on the planet and keeps her star shining thanks to the gullibility of people.

Pacino, his comedic talents criminally underused in the past, has a whale of a time in the kind of role so often played by the likes of Leslie Nielsen or other great clowns. It’s almost subversive to see Hollywood royalty playing in something like this, and Pacino brings anger, frustration and a touch of madness to Viktor.

Key moments include him writhing on a bed to make it appear Simone has slept there, wearing lipstick to fake kisses on a photograph, and holding his head as his creation becomes a monster that threatens to engulf him. Simone’s success is so overwhelming that when he attempts to destroy her by having her ‘direct’ a pretentious art film entitled I am Pig, they love it. Viktor is crushed. “I can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” he wails.

This is virtual Tootsie with a hint of Alien (the robot crewmember) and The Truman Show thrown in for good measure. Much of the film’s style and appeal is down to writer/director Andrew (Gattaca) Niccol, who also wrote The Truman Show. There are obvious (and not-so-obvious) links between the two, but Niccol handles the whole exercise with skill and draws from Pacino one of his best-ever performances.

S1M0NE is brilliantly conceived and executed, and very, very funny. Hollywood has never seen anything like this (though a little movie called Torture Garden in the ‘60s touched on actors achieving immortality through becoming robots) and, after the drubbing it takes in S1M0NE, I doubt they’ll ever allow anything like it again. It’s a little too close to home…

Deeply sardonic and refreshingly honest, S1M0NE lifts the lid of the vacuous nature of Hollywood and offers the hope of something better. That’s why it failed in America, and probably why it will do better in Europe.

Because we’re brighter.

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