Directed by Bernard Rose starring Danny Huston, Peter Weller and Lisa Enos.
Director Bernard Rose went through the ringer making his 1996 adaptation of Tolstoy's 'Anna Karena', with another director hired to re-cut the movie and the running time slashed from three hours to 105 minutes. Then he tried to get another film, 'The Thief of Always', off the ground but that got stuck in development hell and ended up with a re-written script which, in Rose's words, was "utterly unusable". Soon after he began work on 'ivans xtc', based on a Tolstoy novella and a film so scathing and poisonous about the movie business that you wonder if anyone in Hollywood tried to get it banned.
A young hotshot agent, Ivan Beckman (Huston, son of director John), dies in hospital. His 'friends' and colleagues, give him 30 seconds of silence before the debate begins on whether Ivan's massive booze and cocaine use was his downfall. But the story then skips back to when Ivan was alive and had just completed the deal of his life by luring A-List star Don West (Weller) to his agency. It seemed like nothing could go wrong, until he was called back to get the results of routine medical tests - and told to bring someone with him. Even his receptionist was busy so Ivan went alone to face the news that he had terminal lung cancer.
After getting bogged down in the studio system, Rose shot 'ivans xtc' on digital video, the cast and crew totalling nine people and the technology allowing him to shoot 11 pages of dialogue in just four hours. Watching, it's hard not to think of the film as anything other than a cleansing experience for Rose: as one man dies another is reborn.
With the dream like quality of the visuals allied to a heavy documentary feel, 'ivans xtc' is a film that would probably be more at home in an art gallery than cinema. The opening suggests it's going to be the most miserable film you've ever seen and what unfolds doesn't let you up. The characters are vicious, amoral and so choked on their own self-importance that helping someone else seems like the ultimate sign of weakness. Against this backdrop Ivan faces death by himself, going on binges, coughing up blood and wondering if there is anyone he can share his pain with. By the time he gets his answer you'll feel exhausted.
Having shot the film his way, it's difficult not to feel that Rose let himself down with the dialogue because the script could have been much, much tighter without losing any of the film's energy. Instead some scenes are clunky and the improvisational feel doesn't always work, with Huston and Weller the most convincing. The former is excellent in the lead role but a big question remains about whether he comes across as too nice to be credible as a Hollywood agent. You never really feel that you've found out what made Ivan, Ivan – making the bond between viewer and character a lot weaker than it should be.
The film closes with a beautifully played moment of tenderness, which manages to take the venom of the previous 90 minutes. Rose deserves credit for ending his film with such a touching scene, but the - lasting - feeling you'll have on leaving the cinema is that a director has proven himself to be a survivor and, more importantly, has the bit between his teeth again.