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LIGHT SLEEPER

USA, 1991 (MIFF 1992)

Director: Paul Schrader

Paul Schrader is arguably one of the most vital figures of contemporary American cinema. An auteur in the truest sense, his vast body of work as a scriptwriter, director and crit­ic is an incisive exploration of the darker recess­es of the American psyche, gnawing spiritual needs, troubled sexuality and urban frustration.

In Light Sleeper, Schrader returns, quite lit­erally, to characters, places and themes that have filled his best known works. John LeTour (Willem Dafoe) is the quintessential Schrader protagonist: a drifter, a spirit looking for a body to inhabit, nostalgic, but unable to connect with the present. In Taxi Driver this character was angry, in American Gigolo he was narcissistic, but now he's anxious. A courier in a boutique drug business, he is no longer 'in the life' but continues to roam its fringes.

LeTour, like many of his generation, has seen a decade metamorphose. The experimen­tation with drugs has ended with the heinous-ness of crack, sexual liberation has become a struggle for survival, and reform has stagnated in political conservatism.

Like much of Schrader's (best) work, Light Sleeper is not so much plot-driven as it is a study of inner-life. Schrader originally intended to use songs by Bob Dylan, but when that didn't work out, he commissioned Michael Been to compose the lyrical songs that help pro­vide LeTour's 'interior monologue'. Filled with loving cinematic references (most notably Bres­son's Pickpocket) and a brilliantly unstressed performance by Willem Dafoe (all the more remarkable for the fact that he appears in almost every single frame), light Sleeper is not just a work of rare and haunting beauty, but one that presents a provocative and troubling portrait of contemporary lives and times.

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