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At the Movies: ‘Passion of Mind’

May 24, 2000 GMT

Demi Moore plays a woman living two lives in ``Passion of Mind.″

That’s not even the most unusual part of the movie. What’s immediately striking is how much clothing Moore wears in both lives.

After showing off her perfectly toned body in ``Striptease″ and ``G.I. Jane″ and on magazine covers in the ’90s, here Moore’s character wears baggy overalls in the garden and pajamas and socks to bed.

Her wardrobe is only the most obvious indication of how different a film this is for her. Look closer and you’ll see Moore has immersed herself in a complex role that depends on subtle nuance to convey two separate lives.

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She plays Marie, a widowed mother of two young daughters who lives in the French countryside. She spends sunny, lazy days working in the garden and writing free-lance book reviews for The New York Times.

But when she goes to sleep at night, she wakes up as Marty, a high-powered Manhattan literary agent who lives alone in a spacious, eclectic loft. Then the next morning, she wakes up again as Marie.

Which life is real and which is imaginary? It’s impossible to tell. Both are so rich in detail, they feel completely real to Marie/Marty and to the audience.

She confides her confusion to therapists in France and New York, and friends in both places try to convince her they’re the ones who are real.

She also falls in love with a man in each life. In France, it’s the aggressive and seductive William (Stellan Skarsgard), a writer whose most recent novel she has just trashed. In New York, it’s Aaron (William Fichtner), a shy, thoughtful accountant who becomes her friend first and then her lover.

Is she cheating on one with the other? She can’t discern which man is an illusion, and fears choosing the wrong one.

Writer Ron Bass, known for big box office movies like ``Entrapment,″ ``My Best Friend’s Wedding″ and ``Rain Man,″ keeps the audience guessing until the very end in this slower, subtler film.

Much of Bass’ dialogue does feel stilted, however, and his romantic interests for Marie/Marty are completely annoying and create little chemistry.

Both men lay their cards on the table way too early. William tells Marie during one of their early meetings, ``I’ve decided I want you to like me,″ and after their first date, ``I’d like to come home with you.″ On Marty’s first informal date with Aaron in Central Park, he tells her wistfully, ``There’s something about two people sharing their souls on a Sunday morning.″

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Who would date either of them? And why do either of them stay with her after she admits she has a secret, second life? They should write her off as a nut and run for the hills, but for some reason they stick around.

This latest film from Belgian director Alain Berliner couldn’t be more different from his earlier ``Ma Vie en Rose″ (``My Life in Pink″), about a 7-year-old boy who believes he’s a girl, wears makeup and dresses, and plays with dolls.

Both feature main characters who struggle with identity crises, but that’s where the similarities end. ``Ma Vie en Rose,″ which earned Berliner a Golden Globe for best foreign language film in 1998, was bright, colorful, even campy at times.

``Passion of Mind″ is more subdued and introspective. It’s flawed and a bit convoluted, but worth seeing simply because the idea behind it is so intriguing.

``Passion of Mind″ is a Paramount Classics release. It is rated PG-13 for brief sexuality and runs 105 minutes.

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Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G _ General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG _ Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 _ Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R _ Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 _ No one under 17 admitted.