Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
Temeura Morrison talked to me right after he came back from shooting this film, and he talked about how it was a film drenched in the shamanistic rituals of South America, in particular, the ayahuasca root, one of the most powerful hallucinogenics in the world. He had trouble describing the film for me, and I got the feeling he wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from the finished product. They’ve just given the film its first public presentation in Paris, and we’ve got a report on it. Hold on, DOBERMAN fans, and let’s see if Kounen can do it again...
There was a full Paris house Tuesday morning at the UGC Normandie theatre in Camps Elysees for the Press screening of the second “event” of the French cinema this year. (The first was the tepid RRRRRRR!!! - see my PS). We were there for the French Western (sorry W, Freedom Western) we have been waiting for over the seven years since his astonishing DOBERMAN – Jan Kounen’s take on the BD (bande dessinee; comic book, and in France they’re real, hard-cover books) of the Western hero, BLUEBERRY.
Ah, but with a subtitle: L’EXPERIENCE SECRET, THE SECRET EXPERIENCE.
In short, this has so little to do with the comic book, it should be more honest and just utilise the sub-title. Yet BLUEBERRY’s co-creator Jean [Moebius] Giraud, who suggested DOBERMAN’s Vincent Cassel for his hero, has given the film his blessing. “It is,” he laughs, “Moebiussien!”
Apart from certain cliches, it doesn’t even have much to do with the Western – traditional, classic, spaghetti or camembert varieties. The story is a slim, fragile affair, dying before our eyes as Kounen goes in for Chamanist (and Carlos Castaneda) mysticism (and indeed, repetition).
Plus: “Let’s see if we can beat the shit out of the 2001 light show trip.” And I do mean trip; at times, Dennis Hopper could have been directing this... in the 60s... on peyote... beaucoup peyote.
There are silhouette nods to John Ford, but Kounen leaves Sergio Leoneisms to Quentin. And relies on veteran cowpokes like Geoffrey Lewis and a wheel-chaired Ernie Borgnine to fill in any absent atmospherics.
Overall, the mix of those two and Cassel, plus Michael Madsen, Juliette Lewis, Temuera Morrison, Djimon Hounson (killed twice!), a Prussian Eddie Izzard, delicious Vahina Giocante, Tcheky Karyo (a mere cameo from the other DOBERMAN standout), an effective Hugh O’Connor and a solid Colm Meaney, makes for the oddest wild bunch since the contents of SHALAKO.
This is a French-English-Mexican co-production, with all the cliches. Surely no Hollywood A-film writer would make use of “so close I can almost smell it” in 2004.
And what about: “Animals are beasts, men are monsters.” Wasn’t that in KING KONG? The first one.
That’s one of Madsen’s lines and after what he calls the boring WYATT EARP, he certainly enjoys himself here, shooting bullets from gun and gob. Like telling a woman, fearing for her life: “Don’t be scared, I don’t kill animals.”
But when he barges into a house and insists on having for “the Del Rio manuscript,” I half expected Jennifer Garner and Michael Vaughan to wrestle him to the ground.
BLUEBERRY also suffers like most all films made in English by non-English speaking directors. Polanski, Inarritu, Amenabar are among the few who can shoot in English without losing anything in, not translation, but pronunciation, punctuation and delivery.
The IRREVERSIBLE Cassel as Mike Blueberry, the Marshall of Palomito (once due for Val Kilmer) speaks English every bit as perfectly as his father (Jean-Pierre Cassel) except it sure ain’t Western cowpoke English. “Some bitch” – worse, “somebitch” - is not “sumabitch” or “sonuvabitch.”
His best scenes are silent, like his extraordinary reactions to the SFX of eels and snakes and other ALIEN, TRON and 2001 stuff. But watching him move, reminded me of something Stephen Frears said about John Malkovich while shooting DANGEROUS LIAISONS. “He doesn’t walk like an aristocrat, he walks like a cowboy.” Cassel walks like neither. He does not, as Kramer used to brag in SEINFELD, “walk the walk and talk the talk.”
The stagey interiors really suck. The attention to decor detail is praiseworthy, but still lacking a certain spark. The saloon scsnes come across like a French TVV commercial. Although both Juliette and Geoffrey Lewis are there, you still expect a character to emerge from the shadows with a plate of steamin’ pork ‘n’ beans... a new (Mexican) beer... or a trendy men’s cologne.... hollerin’ “Try Branded, ain’t nothin’ better on the range!”
Kounen is far better with his exteriors (though he spends too much time in a chopper). There are some resplendent (Mexican) vistas, but this is Mother Nature directing, not Kounen, just as the SFX are from Rodolph Chabrier and his formidable Mac Guff Ligne team, not Kounen.
When he made DOBERMAN, Kounen was younger, had bigger balls and delighted in clanging them loudly in our faces. He’s matured now, he’s more introsopective... chamanised! While the two hour movie (and four minutes) has its moments (Juliette Lewis out-Stoning Sharon when swimming naked is a big ’un), it also drags beyond belief. He has no idea when to stop the story, the film or the effects. Or, simply, no desire to.
I seem to remember that when we all queued to see the Press unveiling of DOBERMAN in 1997, all the “new New Wavers” were there. Kassovitz, Gans, etc. They’d also be at the big media screenings of the newest INDIANA JONES or STAR WARS chapters. And afterwards, they’d be standing outside on the Champs Elysees, discussing each and every cut.... for hours! This morning I noticed only Christophe Gans in the audience – the outsider of the group, in a way, as he used to be a critic. The way the others are all going Hollywood (Olivier Dahan, Gilles Mimouni, Florent-Emilio Siri, Olivier Megaton and both Kassovitz and Pitof falling victim to the Halle Berry jinx with GOTHIKA and CATWOMAN), I still have my Euros on Gans as proving the the best and longest-lasting film-maker of the bunch. That’s probably why he’s not made anything since BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF in 2001...
Oh, yes, and what started in the opening credits, as “A Jan Kounen film,” ended in the closing screed as “A Jan Kounen session.” Maybe better session players next time?
PS: The first “event” of the French cinema this year. was the tepid
RRRRRRR!!! - once a Hitchcock script title (or nearly, he had five Rs,
not seven)itychcockc scritp title) , now a stone-age send-up. This is
a FLINSTONES without any flint, from Alain Chabat (actor-director of
the enormous hit that was the second ASTERIX film), and starring a puny
TV comedy troupe called Les Robins des Bois (The Robin Hoods) which has
neither the wit or wisdom of a Mel Brooks, Monty P, or even of
earlier, far funnier French comic groups, Les Inconnus (The
Unknowns) or indeed Les Nuls (The Dumb Asses) which is where Chabat
Fascinating. I am dying to hear someone else’s take now, too. Anybody else get a glimpse and want to share?