Ask the Dust

Robert Towne is seventy-one and a legend, notably for his classic 1974 screenplay for the Los Angeles-based Chinatown. As writer and director, Towne returns to that turf in his arid adaptation of John Fante's autobiographical 1939 novel about Arturo Bandini (a miscast Colin Farrell), an Italian writer struggling to make it in Depression-era L.A. Arturo is attracted to Camilla (Salma Hayek), a Mexican waitress he alienates with racial epithets and sexual rejection. The virginal Arturo does bed Vera (a vivid Idina Menzel), a married Jew whose lower body is badly scarred. Though these three have all experienced prejudice, they fail to heal one another's wounds. The film, which is literary to a fault, includes an earthquake, but if the earth moves at all, thank Hayek, who gives the tale a smoldering life that finally lifts it from the page.

From The Archives Issue 111: June 22, 1972
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