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Nonduality Highlights: Issue #3141, Saturday, April 19, 2008, Editor: Mark

Editor's note: I rented the DVD of a fun film yesterday: Zen Noir. I recommend it.

Zen Noir

Though it begins like a private-eye flick, `Zen Noir' transforms into an inner investigation.

By Kevin Thomas, Special to The Times

More than 10 years ago, writer-director Marc Rosenbush was meditating at a Buddhist temple when he looked at the half-asleep people all around him and wondered, "What would happen if one of us just keeled over, dead?"

One possible answer lies in the theater director's first feature film, "Zen Noir," a provocative, witty - and admittedly esoteric - experimental comedy that is serious, amusing and satisfying, in Rosenbush's words: "a Zen riddle designed more to be experienced than understood."

The film begins deceptively like yet another private-eye spoof, with a nameless detective (Duane Sharp), unshaven but hatted, peering into a mirror and mouthing trite gumshoe voice-over dialogue: "The morning fog clung to the city like desperation on an aging drag queen," mercifully followed by "Why do I talk like that?"

Once the detective steps into a Buddhist temple to investigate the death of a monk who has keeled over during meditation, he enters another universe, where he is confronted by the serenely implacable Master (Kim Chan). Gradually, the detective discovers that the real mystery he must unravel is himself.

While spiked with much humor, the detective's odyssey into himself becomes a convincingly genuine transformation, demanding much of the highly skilled and resourceful Sharp, for whom Chan provides a formidable foil.

The process requires the detective to come to grips with the loss of his beloved pregnant wife (Jennifer Siebel) and his growing affection for the enigmatic monk Jane (Debra Miller), whose demonstration of the definition of a lay priest suggests that Zen Buddhism and sex are hardly mutually exclusive.

"Zen Noir" is essentially, even literally, a chamber drama that unfolds entirely inside the temple, a large space with tatami mats, shoji screens and sections of blood-red walls. It may be theatrical yet is no mere filmed play.

Rosenbush collaborates with inspired cinematographer Christopher Gosch to create a high-styled film that is visually rich and stunning. Its bold imagery is splendidly complemented by Steven Chesne's score, jazzy at the start but increasingly exotic. No small part of the pleasure in watching "Zen Noir" is that it could scarcely look richer or more elegant yet probably was made on a minuscule budget.

MPAA rating: Not rated. Some sex, complex adult themes. A Magic Lamp release. Writer-producer-director Marc Rosenbush. Producers Frank Crim, Erika Gardner. Cinematographer Christopher Gosch. Editor Camden Toy. Running time: 1 hour, 11 minutes.

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