September 12, 1983 12:00 PM

Jean-Jacques Beineix won France’s Cesar Award for the Best New Film of 1982 with Diva, and no prize could have been more deserved or suggested more promise. That film electrified audiences worldwide with its jarringly garish and erotic set design and cinematography, combined with a whiplash plot line and a New Wave hipness that never let up. Moon in the Gutter is, astonishingly, everything Diva was not. Moon is unrelentingly sleazy, morose, self-indulgently tedious and pretentiously “dark.” Gerard Depardieu plays a hulking but sensitive stevedore in an unnamed but vaguely Third Worldish port city, haunted by the throat-slashing suicide of his virginal sister after she is raped (off-camera, in the film’s opening sequence). Beineix, who co-wrote the screenplay with Olivier Mergault from David Goodis’ 1953 novel, gets plenty of help from set designer Hilton McConnico in evoking scenes of dockside squalor that give the film its funky gloom. In fact, the props get more care than the script. Depardieu never really goes after his suspicions but pursues the sister (Nastassia Kinski) of the man who is one of the rape suspects, a rich vagrant who lives “uptown” and drinks himself into oblivion every night at a local dive. Kinski drives a red sports car and gets off on slumming, while Depardieu dreams of “a clean city”—and his sister’s redemption. We can’t spoil the ending because there isn’t any—the story is never resolved. Kinski can pout in four languages, though nothing of substance flows from those supernaturally sensual lips and eyes. In the end, Beineix sacrificed good storytelling, character depth and dramatic tension for the sheer narcissistic rush of artsy image making for its own sake. What a regrettable waste of talent. (R)

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