John Malkovich gets eaten by cannibals, Lucy Liu and Salma Hayek have a vicious cat fight, Rhys Ifans plays an insane director who gets assassinated by his producer (David Schwimmer), and Saffron Burrows wears a strap-on. Sound bonkers? Well it is, but the story's nothing compared to the bravura visual feat that director Mike Figgis pulls off.
Filming this surreal ensemble comedy-drama-horror on digital video, Figgis has created this year's most original and striking piece of cinema.
Shot in the Hungarian Palace Hotel in Venice, "Hotel" intertwines a series of multi-layered stories. Ifans' film crew are trying to make an off-the-cuff Dogme update of John Webster's Jacobean tragedy ("a fast food McMalfi - very digestible and accessible to Hollywood stars") while witless documentary-maker Salma Hayek gets under his feet. Meanwhile, down in the basement, the hotel staff are cooking some very strange meat dishes.
Experimenting with the endless possibilities of digital video, Figgis uses the same quadrant screen he showcased in "Timecode" but also throws in lots of other new tricks - night vision lenses, scope, slow-mo, superimposed images. The effect is startling. "Hotel" pulls the conventions of conventional film-making apart right before our eyes and gives a glimpse of the future of narrative cinema.
To his credit, though, Figgis never lets the technical experiments get in the way of what is also a fantastic piece of ensemble acting. The opening 40 minutes offer an absolutely hilarious stretch of fast-paced comedy, before switching into something much darker and disturbing. The pace sometimes flags and the sheer bizarreness of the proceedings may confuse, but it's a trip you won't forget any time soon.