Nine Recent “Split Personality” Films

Sliding Doors

When I was first trying to get people interested in Foreign Correspondents, many warned me that I'd have a difficult time selling it because the film was split into two separate stories. I guess it's just something filmmakers aren't supposed to do. But two years later, today's cinema is flooded with features from all over the world that consist of multiple narratives, shifts in time, even parallel universes. Whether these disparate filmmakers are reflecting pre-millenial anxiety, inspired by the influencial work of director Wong Kar Wai, or just ripping off Pulp Fiction's multi-story gimmick, the idea of a "fractured narrative" has become a sort of mini-movement.

  1. Sliding Doors (UK/US, Peter Howitt). The first film of this group to make a splash - and still the most financially successful - stars Gwyneth Paltrow as a Londoner simultaneously, through the magic of film, living two parallel lives, one as a mousy nobody and the other as a successful businesswoman.
  2. The Red Violin (Canada, Francois Girard). A multi-story film that takes place over three centuries, in five languages, as a very special violin touches the lives of its various owners throughout the world and across time.
  3. Three Seasons (US/Vietnam, Tony Bui). Sentimental Sundance winner set in contemporary Vietnam and split into three separate dramatic stories.
  4. The Mirror (Iran, Jafar Panahi). A different sort of "split" film, this begins as a fictional story of a little girl trying to find her way home in crowded Tehran - then, halfway through, the little lead actress decides to quit acting, runs away from the production and the rest of the movie becomes a "documentary" as the crew tracks the real little girl trying to find her way home.
  5. Go (US, Doug Limon). Fast-paced comedy about various young adults getting into serious trouble one December night; the film tells three stories and continues to go back in time to the moment where all three groups of characters are in the same place. The stories come together a bit too tidily at film's end, but the frenetic pace is still enjoyable.
  6. Run Lola Run (Germany, Tom Tykwer). Art house hit also splits itself into thirds as it becomes a live action video game, following a young Berlin woman who has 20 minutes to find 100,000 DM (US$60,000) to save her boyfriend from death. The film basically gives her three attempts to get it right. Its hyperactive pace makes Go look like Masterpiece Theatre.
  7. Twice Upon a Yesterday (UK/Spain, Maria Ripoll). The movie that addresses the need for life to have an "Undo" command. London actor gets dumped by his girlfriend after he admits to having an affair, and 6 months later enlists two magicians to send him back in time to correct his errors - only to find out that fate seems to have the same plans for him no matter what he does.
  8. Cabaret Balkan (Yugoslavia, Goran Paskaljevic). A violent night in the life of Belgrade, before the recent American bombing, following several separately angry citizens of the former Yugoslavia (the country itself now a "split personality") as they - like the war itself - unearth past grudges in order to seek vengeance against old foes.
  9. Passion of Mind (US, Alain Berliner). And we come full circle with a story of a woman (Demi Moore) who, like the heroine in Sliding Doors, finds herself living two separate lives, one of which may be a dream. As of this writing, the film has not yet been released, but it's a sure sign that cinema's latest storytelling trend is far from over.