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Flower Power

Flick Chick


Published August 17, 2005 at 4:00 p.m.

Jon Kilik won't divulge any specifics, but his recollection of a love affair as a University of Vermont student in the 1970s found its way into writer-director Jim Jarmusch's latest release. Broken Flowers, which Kilik produced, stars Bill Murray as a middle-aged single man on a pilgrimage to comprehend the lasting impact of romantic liaisons from two decades earlier. So, why did Kilik's association with the film -- opening this weekend at the Roxy in Burlington -- prompt him to contribute reflections from his days of youthful yearning?

"The script appealed to me right away," he acknowledges during a cellphone call from Mexico, where he is en route to yet another movie set. "I could identify with the lead character. Everybody has a past, and to explore that is revealing about yourself, wondering what might have been if you stayed with an old college girlfriend, and understanding who you are today."

Today, the happily married 1978 UVM grad has a resume that lists many of this era's most acclaimed indies, from Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing in 1989 to Tim Robbins' Dead Man Walking in 1995. Kilik, now 48, has also worked on a few projects that failed to earn good reviews, such as Oliver Stone's Alexander.

His first venture with Jarmusch was shot last fall in New York and New Jersey, where Kilik grew up, even though the plot supposedly moves on to other parts of the country. "Broken Flowers is really set in 'Generica,' as we call it," he says. "Anyplace, USA."

Although Jarmusch is the epitome of downtown hip, Kilik discovered that the white-haired Manhattan artist "has a very methodical, clear, focused and practical approach." And Murray proved to be as funny in person as he often is on screen. "He kept the crew entertained," Kilik notes. "He was always giving people backrubs. Bill's an overall joy to be around."

Broken Flowers stuck close to home, but Kilik's current effort is sending him all over the globe. Babel, by the creators of 21 Grams and Amores Perros, takes place in Morocco, Tunisia, Mexico and Japan within a single 36-hour period. He explains that writer Guillermo Arriaga and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu came up with four loosely connected sagas about "communication despite language barriers, different cultures and the frustration of those borders."

Most of the narrative has been kept under wraps, and Kilik also remains mum. But it's known that Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett portray a vacationing couple struck by tragedy in North Africa, where their collective social conscience is awakened through interaction with a local family of shepherds. Gael Garcia Bernal (Che Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries) appears in the Mexican segment.

Kilik's next collaborations will involve two filmmakers he knows quite well: One is Spike Lee, whose Inside Man stars Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster and Clive Owen. The other reunites him with Julian Schnabel (Before Night Falls) for a picture that's tentatively titled The Lonely Doll.

Dolls are important in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, a comedy opening nationwide on August 19. They're actually action figures in a vast collection owned by the protagonist, a reclusive geek named Andy (Steve Carell, formerly of Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" and now of "The Office" on NBC). During a recent Burlington sneak preview, the audience roared its approval at dialogue peppered with words like "dicks," "balls" and "nuts." The script, by Carrel and director Judd Apatow, belongs in the penis-obsessed genre.

Andy's celibacy is unthinkable to his coworkers at a Los Angeles Circuit City-like store. They're constantly urging him to get it on with a woman, any woman. But when he falls for Trish (the normally terrific Catherine Keener), the guy can't get it up.

Unfortunately, his performance anxiety unveils a split personality that interferes with any consistent view of him. We're supposed to feel a fondness for Andy, but he's annoyingly passive-aggressive -- which didn't bother the adoring crowd at Palace 9 last week. The Hollywood mind-control machine seemed to be functioning successfully.

The satire missing from the rest of Virgin arrives in scenes that feature a gigantic ad plastered on city buses. Next to an image of nearly naked lovers, this promotion for some sort of fragrance reads: "You know you want it -- Eruption!" Sex clearly sells, and consumers continue to reaffirm that in-your-face erotic messages are highly effective.