Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

So I’m searching for a movie to watch to put on the ‘retro’ section of this particular website and this movie ‘Harem’ slides across my desk. Oddly enough I’ve never heard of this movie made back in 1985, a movie which stars Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley and a stunningly beautiful Nastassja Kinski while both actors were at the peaks of their respective careers. Odd. What little information I could find out about this film included the nugget of information that this is a movie that is extremely popular in France. France of course being a hub of culture, sophistication, class… and also apparently a hub for the love of really shitty movies.

‘Harem’ starts off simply and lucidly enough as we make the acquaintance of a New York Stock Exchange floor trader named Diane (Kinski). Diane’s life seems to be going well enough as she has this nice job and is moving into a new uptown apartment, and then she gets a sunflower delivered to her doorstep. Just so you know if you plan to get anything out of this movie you had better be pretty damned adept at deciphering and translating cryptic imagery into concrete theory. This is critical.

Anyway Diane is attending the wedding of her good friend Judi, played by one Rosanne Katon. Now I hate to get sidetracked but Rosanne Katon was a Playboy Playmate back in 1978. I was a little boy in 1978 and could’ve cared less about this but my brother was eighteen and I remember vividly him going completely gaga over this pictorial that he had found featuring Ms. Katon and his subsequent swearing of undying love to Rosanne Katon. I have not thought about that until I saw this movie yesterday and saw Ms. Katon’s name listed in the credits. This, of course, led to a ‘safe image off’ Google Image Search of one Rosanne Katon. Damn….

Back on point, not that it matters because I really don’t know what’s going on in this movie, Diane misses a ferry but some friendly gentlemen offer to run her to Liberty Island for the wedding reception and these men promptly drug the poor girl who wakes

up in an Arabian bathhouse with a bunch of other women and children. Apparently Sheik Salem (Kingsley) has been eying this woman for some time now… and I mean a long time… but since my man apparently lacks game he went the more effective route of 'kidnapping a bitch' to his way to love.

Obviously Diane is none too happy with this unfortunate turn of events but the Sheik did observe that she was lonely in New York and simply escalated the situation to allow nature to take its course. And he let her ride in his Ferrari which I guess closed the deal. A note to dudes who plan on kidnapping their way to love… own a Ferrari.

Now love is in full bloom. I guess. But this is also when ‘Harem’ becomes completely unintelligible. Good luck in attempting to decipher what the heck is happening in this movie from this point on.

As ‘Harem’ plays out I am attempting to place my self in the frame of reference when this movie was being made. It is French in origin and the year is 1985. But even giving up this generous leeway for this movie it is still complete and total confusing nonsense. It is beautiful nonsense, make no doubt about that for this is one beautifully photographed and stunning film to look at, but as an intelligible piece of narrative cinema? Oh good heavens no. So as we stated before, since this isn’t a movie that’s going to make any kind of sense to a normal film watcher you are going to have to pay close attention to the disjointed images and confusing events that director and co-writer Arthur Joffe is shunting your way because I’m certain the director was trying to get some kind of message across in his movie. Personally, after about an hour of this torture, I didn’t care what the message was. Yes, Nastassja Kinski is beautiful and I don’t know if I’ve seen her look better than she looks in this movie. Yes Ben Kingsley is a wonderful actor. If I need an A-list caliber dude to be in a biographical drama, play a detached hitman or perform in any number of complex difficult roles… Sexy Beast anybody… Ben Kingsley is my guy. But what Ben Kingsley is not is Omar Sharif. Kingsley and Kinski have absolutely no chemistry together which of course completely derails this alleged love this kidnapped woman was supposed to have acquired for this man which destroys the anchor of what little story there was in this movie.

With nothing supporting this relationship which is pretty darned critical to this movie, now the film has to stand on its own, and it abandoned any attempts at a sensible narrative once Diane gets into that Ferrari. But ‘Harem’ is pretty to look at, Nastassja Kinski is pretty to look at, Rosanne Katon was pretty to look at if we only got to look at her for a brief moment. But what in the world do the French see in this movie? Jerry Lewis I can get with. But Harem… no sir… that I don’t get.

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