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Suture

Director: Scott McGehee/David Siegel


Perhaps the finest feature debut in recent American independent cinema, Suture is an intriguing, beautifully constructed mystery thriller on the theme of identity. Strikingly shot in gleaming black and white images composed for the cinema’s widest screen format (here is one movie which has to be seen on a large ‘Scope screen), tish cool and sophisticated story of murder and amnesia is a haunting exploration of what the film-makers describe as ‘the relationship between our inner and outer selves.
Co-writers and directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel come armed with advanced college degrees and a thorough knowledge of film history, citing s influences Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, Edward Dmytryk’s Mirage (both of which feature Gregory Peck as an amnesiac), John Frankenheimer’s Seconds (in which Rock Hudson undergoes an identity switch through plastic surgery) and Hiroshi Teshigahara’s The Face of Another (a japanese classic about a burn victim who experiences a trauma after undergoin physical reconstruction). The miracle of Suture, however, is that it never once appears derivative or academic, emerging instead as a clever and amusing spin on familiar conundrums involving shifting appearances and identities.
The story begins with a seemingly straightforward scam. Already under suspicioin for killing his wealthy father, shady Vincent Towers (Michael Harris) plans to dupe his innocent brother Clay (Dennis Haysbert) by switching identities and arranging for Clay to be disfigured beyond recognition in a rigged car explosion. Since Clay will be carrying his brother’s identification papers, Vincent assumes the charred body will be mistaken for his own, thus allowing him to disappear with his newly inherited wealth. But Clay miraculously survives the murder attempt and is admitted to hospital with an unrecognisable face and complete amnesia. Unaware of the deception, tow doctors attempt a physical and psychological reconstruction of the battered body and shattered mind, using Vincent as the model. At the same time, the local police go abouth reconstructing the brutal murder of Vincent’s father and await the suspect’s recovery so that they can make an identification.
Contrasting the cool precision of medical science and criminal forensics with the vague malleable nature of personality and memory, the film charts Clay’s struggle to reconcile his new life of privilege, power and wealth with his gradually returning set of conflicting memories. As if the confusions and complications of Clay’s predicament weren’t enough to preoccupy us, McGehee and Siegel add an outlandish conceit of their own to further confound us. The brothers are played by two completely dissimilar actors, one white the other black, a striking anomaly the film nonchalantly refuses to acknowledge. Besides providing Suture with a healthy dose of deadpan, disorientating humour, this device helps to foreground the movie’s central concern: is Clay the man he has always been on the inside, or will he become the man people mistake him for? As McGehee puts it, the aim throughout is to dislodge audience expectations of reality and make them question the nature of identity.
A work of considerable boldness and originality, Suture has proved a big success on the festival circuit and made a particularly stunning impact on the giant screen at Cannes. It launches the young McGehee and Siegel as exciting new talents and, like them, we must be grateful to director Steven Soderbergh of sex, lies and videotape fame for believing in Suture and using his influence to raise money for its completion.

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