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MOVIE REVIEW

Stars don't always align in over-thought 'Antares'

There's nothing attractive about the side of Vienna depicted in ''Antares." Its bland concrete sprawl of high-rise housing blocks isn't anyplace an outsider would want to visit, nor is it anyplace a native should want to stay. That's what makes it a seemingly ideal place to meet some unhappy people searching for a way out.

In a triptych of separate but interconnected stories, ''Antares" writer-director Gotz Spielmann (''The Stranger") introduces us to the occupants of three apartments stacked within screaming distance of each other. The first unit is home to Eva (Petra Morze), a nurse whose tidy life includes a well-meaning husband and an adolescent daughter who's outgrown her. Eva is safe, which you can take to mean bored, and that leads her to indulge in a sloppy affair with a married stranger (Andreas Patton) who brings out her naughty side. Be advised that their sexual encounters are graphic and voyeuristic, although they often seem more clunky than kinky.

Unit two features Sonja (Susanne Wuest), a supermarket clerk who's faking pregnancy to tie down her Yugoslavian boyfriend, Marco (Dennis Cubic). Sonja is a raging head case, but she has good reason to be jealous of Marco, who's cheating on her with Nicole (Martina Zinner), occupant of the third apartment in this montage.

Nicole is struggling to get out from under an abusive relationship with Alex (Andreas Kiendl), the father of her young son. The guy won't loosen his grip, which makes him laughable, sad, and menacing all at the same time, and Kiendl does an exceptional job of portraying him as a complex villain who won't just be dismissed.

A few too many coincidences link the people in these residences, to the point that we begin to wonder if anyone else lives in their buildings, or in the rest of Vienna for that matter. Austrian-born Spielmann is admirably intent on exposing the natural convergence of too many lonely lives, but he winds up burying his point by over-orchestrating the ways they intersect.

The title ''Antares," referring to a bright red star to rival Mars in the constellation of Scorpius, is apparently supposed to tell us something about these stories being volatile, intensely emotional things. All it tells this viewer is the film's way over-thought.

From the moment ''Antares" reveals its lonely-planet setting, starkly photographed by Martin Gschlacht, we wonder: Who lives here and what's their story? We don't need perfectly knitted fates to satisfy our curiosity; simple truths and engaging performances could be enough, if Spielmann would only let them be.

Janice Page can be reached at jpage22@hotmail.com.

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