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"Twin Falls Idaho" moves at a snail's pace, but its disturbing uniqueness keeps you watching.

Double Exposure

The '90s have brought to the world of film an interesting sub-genre: Movies made by brothers. First came the offbeat Coen Brothers (Joel and Ethan); followed by the low-brow tag team of Bobby and Peter Farrelly; and then, the stylish sexiness of "Bound's" Larry and Andy Wachowski. Now come Michael and Mark Polish, who up the fraternal filmmaking ante. They're not just siblings; they're twins. Identical twins. Not surprisingly, their first feature deals with duality, individuality and sexuality.

Written by and starring both brothers, "Twin Falls Idaho" is a sensitive and markedly offbeat romance. As the movie opens, we watch a lovely young prostitute enter a Victorian-era skid-row hotel. She knocks on a door at the end of the hall, enters and tells the thin young man emerging from the bathroom, "This place is full of freaks."

Commenting on how normal he looks, she stops short, caught in an embarrassing faux pas, as a second, identical young man emerges. Not just twins, Francis (Michael Polish) and Blake Falls (Mark Polish) are conjoined twins.

Covering her shock and embarrassment, Penny (Michele Hicks) soon discovers that she is to be Francis' birthday gift to his brother Blake. But the planned transaction gets put on hold when the frail Francis is hit with the flu.

Although not quite a hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold cliché, Penny is a kind and intelligent young woman struggling to get her life together. She is drawn to the sweetly shy Falls brothers; she responds to them as human beings rather than as freaks. Penny calls on one of her regulars named Miles (Patrick Bauchau), a middle-aged doctor, to treat Francis.

As Penny stays to help nurse Francis, a mutual attraction begins to shimmer between her and Blake. As Francis sleeps, Blake wistfully tells Penny, "Maybe I'll call you when I'm single."

Or perhaps not so wistfully, for Francis has a serious heart condition. He believes that blood pumping from Blake's heart is all that's keeping him alive. But should Francis begin to die, Blake might not be able to withstand the separation surgery.

As youngsters, the Polish brothers say they became fascinated with the story of conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker. Born in Siam, giving rise to the term "Siamese Twins," the Bunker brothers made a good living in the early 19th century as a circus sideshow attraction. They also lived a healthy, outwardly normal life, marrying sisters and fathering 22 children. The Bunker brothers' bond was a thick band of tissue which today would easily have been severed. But it's that bond, that shared tissue, which intrigued the young Polish twins. As they matured, they saw that shared tissue as a metaphor to their twin-ness and the paradoxical nature of any intimate relationship: separate but equal; searching for independence within a relationship defined by mutual dependency.

Directed solo by brother Michael, "Twin Falls Idaho" has a pokey, deliberate pace that many will find annoying. Many will also be irritated by a number of indie production tics that undercut the film's credibility — a heavy-handed dose of symbolism and too many scenes that are ridiculously devoid of dialogue. And yet, there's something so intriguing, so genuinely poignant about the characters and actors that it's easy to shrug off the film's obvious shortcomings. In many ways, watching "Twin Falls Idaho" brought to mind the wonderfully moving "Of Human Bondage" and "Elephant Man." Although both of those are head-and-shoulders above this effort, "Twin Falls Idaho" resonates with the same humanity.

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