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Syd (Radha Mitchell), is a hardworking twenty-something with a junior editor’s job at Frame, a swanky photo magazine in New York, and a routine boyfriend in James (Gabriel Mann). One day, a leak in the ceiling of Syd's apartment opens a whole new world to her. When she goes upstairs to inquire about it, she stumbles into the bohemian world of Lucy Berliner (Ally Sheedy), a once- famous fashion photographer who vanished from the public eye a decade ago. She lives with her heroin-addicted lover, Greta (Patricia Clarkson), and a bunch of friends who drift in and out as they please. Syd is intrigued by Lucy and the intrigue turns to love, even as her editors press Syd into urging Lucy to do a photo feature for Frame. But Syd’s arrival in Lucy’s life has other, less happy consequences.

"Radha Mitchell, last seen (and first seen) in Love and Other Catastrophes, delivers a spectacularly convincing and touching performance as Syd in High Art, full of sensuality, honesty and intelligence, vulnerability and inner strength. But she is in good company, with a strikingly powerful Ally Sheedy as Lucy Berliner, the photographer who brings out the lesbian in Syd, while Syd brings back to life Lucy’s professional career – albeit temporarily. The film is an intricate and intimate study of three relationships that intersect. Lucy and Greta (Patricia Clarkson), Syd and James (Gabriel Mann) and finally Syd and Lucy. But it is not so much the ‘what’ of these lovers’ stories that fascinate us, but the ‘how’ of Cholodenko’s filmmaking, which is itself high art, indeed. She has captured a style somewhere between documentary and refreshed nouvelle vague, if you’ll pardon the wafty pretension. While she rejects the need for make up and other embellishments for her characters, Cholodenko fills the screen with enormous love for them, with enormous compassion and understanding which we are invited to share. For example, the Lucy/Greta relationship is exposed with such intimacy we are almost embarrassed to be allowed into their bedroom – and I’m not talking sex. Then there is the way their bohemian lifestyle is depicted, heroin sniffing and all, without judgement, but neither condoned; she lets us see the consequences, and I can assure you the film is not an encouragement to partake. But the most potent aspect of the film is its ability to make us know these characters so acutely, we feel we have been with them a lot longer than an hour and a half."
Andrew L. Urban

"'Derrida...Kristeva...whatever!' trills Radha Mitchell near the start of High Art, merrily dropping the names of French theorists she's studied in college. At times this first feature can be a bit clumsy and precious about the details of its highbrow art-world setting, but it's still an impressive achievement with some unusually complex, ambiguous characters. As their affair develops, Lucy and Syd seem driven by numerous conflicting urges, impossible to separate out: lust, friendship, addiction, curiosity, the desire to create, the desire to get ahead...whatever. Both of them remain attractive and sympathetic, and the growth of their love is carefully documented, yet at the same time we can feel that the complaints of Syd's resentful boyfriend - who sees her shift to lesbianism as a virtual career move - aren't totally beside the point. Above all the film is alert to ways that this relationship might connect to a broader sense of being a cultural insider or outsider. Sexuality can be one such exclusive club (where it's important to decide if you belong or not), but others are suggested by Syd's academic banter, her attempts to gain a foothold in the workplace, and by the shared history and private rituals of Lucy's circle of friends. It's interesting also to trace the varied connections Cholodenko establishes with other worlds, other movies. Greta is presented as a onetime favorite actress of Fassbinder, a director known for his tough gaze at murky tangles of sex and power; and of course the allusive casting makes this a quasi-sequel to The Breakfast Club as well as Love And Other Catastrophes. Could the shy teenager Ally Sheedy played in the '80s have grown up into this moody, worldly-wise dyke? Well, it's not so implausible - and the idea certainly gives an extra kick to Sheedy's charismatic performance."
Jake Wilson

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CAST: Ally Sheedy, Radha Mitchell, Patricia Clarkson, Tammy Grimes, Gabriel Mann, Bill Sage, Ann Duong, David Thornton

PRODUCERS: Dolly Hall, Jeff Levy-Hinte, Susan A. Stoven

DIRECTOR: Lisa Cholodenko

SCRIPT: Lisa Cholodenko


EDITOR: Amy E. Duddleston

MUSIC: Shudder to Think


RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 4, 1999; Perth Mar 11, 1999

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