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DIRECTED BY: Lynn Hershman Leeson
PLOT: Dr. Rosetta Stone creates three “self-replicating automatons” in her image, who generally stay hidden away in her apartment except when one goes out to harvest the Y-chromosomes they require to survive; her creations’ growing dissatisfaction with their confinement threaten this arrangement.
COMMENTS: Years before Zoom culture, Teknolust latched onto the power of screens to bring communication to those trapped in their rooms. Rosetta’s isolated, phosphor color-coded creations – unsurprisingly named Ruby, Marinne, and Olive – speak to her through large flatscreens mounted in each of their matching bedrooms, and she peers back down at them and their silly antics through her own screen. The catch is that, rather than a phone or a tablet, Rosetta’s viewscreen is the disguised window panel of a microwave oven. It’s not exactly Star Trek, but then Teknolust is only interested in enough science fiction to get things going. After that, it’s devil-may-care.
Consider that title, for example, which suggests a neon-accented erotic thriller on early-90s Cinemax. Teknolust is a much lighter, frothier confection. Once we get past the opening minutes, in which one of the automatons uses her sexual wiles in a steamy modern-decor bathroom to extract valuable “nourishment” from an unsuspecting male, the movie settles down into something closer to a romantic comedy. In fact, it’s remarkably evocative of 1987’s Making Mr. Right, which also features an asocial scientist who constructs an empathic android in his own image.
Even if we focus on the “lust” part, the strongest emotions held by Rosetta’s three creations (it is never clear if they are actual robots, clones, or computer-generated beings) are not their sex drives, but their compulsion to see the world beyond their window. It’s surprising that femme fatale Ruby jettisons all of her powers of seduction (which she gleaned from watching three public domain films) for Davies’ hapless copyboy, but given her lack of a life otherwise, it’s only logical that she latches on to his dweeby innocence. (His mother’s surprise that this angular, statuesque vision would take up with her scruffy, underachieving son is worth a chuckle.)
The roles of Rosetta and her creations point to Teknolust‘s gravest sin: wasting the bottomless reservoir of weirdness that is Tilda Swinton. Casting her to play four separate roles – three of which are constantly interacting – seems like a masterstroke, but the four women are given precious little opportunity to assert themselves beyond surface-level characteristics. Rosetta is your classic flustered nerdgirl, right down to the terrible perm and oversized glasses. Marinne is a petulant schoolgirl, Olive is eager to please, and Ruby is mainly the one who gets to go outside. Swinton can’t figure out anything else to do with them, which suggests these underdeveloped parts might have worked better with someone a little closer to the comedy genre they seem to be stereotyping, like Sandra Bullock or Reese Witherspoon.
A number of oddball characters populate Teknolust, who all turn out to be little more than their affectations. The script develops bit parts, like the doctor who speaks exclusively in an ASMR whisper, just as much as prominent figures like Karen Black’s cellar-voiced private detective Dirty Dick. There are interesting depths to be plumbed in such characters, but we never delve deeper than their surface oddness. They probably wouldn’t hold Leeson’s interest anyway, as she repeatedly demonstrates by crosscutting between storylines with almost no regard for timing or narrative flow. She’s always got a new thing she wants to show off – little hints in the story about an entire family being wiped out by a virus, or the implications of a disease that manifests a barcode on the victim’s forehead – and she’s in an awful hurry to get you there.
Like a sugar cube, Teknolust is pleasantly sweet in the moment and gone in a flash. There are some intriguing ideas at work here, but don’t get too attached to them. It’s got just enough in it to hold the attention of someone staring at the video screen on their microwave, waiting for the tea to steep.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
(This movie was nominated for review by Motyka. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)