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ELLE NO

For the oglers in the crowd, the attraction of John Duigan's Sirens will be the movie debut of statuesque swimsuit model Elle MacPherson--sans swimsuit. For everyone else, there is no attraction, unless it comes as news to you that a straitlaced Anglican priest of the 1930s and his prim wife are likely to be taken aback by a bohemian artist and the trio of walking, talking nudes he keeps around the house.

The continuing Australian astonishment at "new ideas" that other cultures have digested generations earlier is itself astonishing. The most distinctive feature of Aussie moviemaking is its locked-attic odor, and Duigan's conventional tale of bourgeois repression running afoul of carnal emancipation in the Outback is another instant antique. D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller and five hundred other novelists were getting readers hot and bothered over this kind of thing sixty and seventy years ago, and most serious moviemakers have long since exhausted the subject.

But not Down Under. Just in case we've never heard of Adam and Eve, Duigan loads the movie down with images of writhing snakes and ripe red apples, and there's plenty of familiar debate about religious morality, artistic expression and pioneer feminism around the dinner table--featuring the lame priest (Hugh Grant), who's been sent all the way from London to try and talk the libertine artist (Sam Neill) into withdrawing a couple of his naughtier canvases from a big gallery show.

Meanwhile, the priest's wife (Tara Fitzgerald) has her passions predictably awakened, a la Lady Chatterly, and goes home a minor-league "siren" herself. Her first seducer is--no kidding--a tragically blinded hermit (Mark Gerbner). The others are the artist's female models (MacPherson, Portia de Rossi and Kate Fischer), whose fuselages are more impressive than their opinions. It may get noticed for the undraping of MacPherson, but Sirens is a dreary, dated commentary on "modern" mores. Not even the dirty old men in the house may feel like sticking around for the credits. The rest of us would do better going back for a second look at The Piano.

 
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