Sunday, April 6, 2008

Brotherly Dysfunction (Film - The Brothers Grimm & The Darjeeling Limited)

Coincidentally, the two films we borrowed from the library this week were about brotherly love and dysfunction - Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm (2005) and Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited. I'm a huge Terry Gilliam fan, Brazil is a masterpiece and one of my favorite films ever. He is possessed of the most prodigious imagination and the visual worlds of his films are usually breathtakingly original but this film lacked all subtlety. The writing, casting and acting of the non-star roles were all flat and obvious. Somehow every shot appeared to be a cliche - not a story archetype, I get the difference. Despite the scary forest and the steam punk devices that peppered the visual universe of the film, it ended up feeling like a spoof of a commercial period film. It was as if, in order to be a film about the origin of fairy tales, it needed to be stereotyped and unconvincing. But that seems to me a case against the worth of these tales, which is clearly not Gilliam's experience of them if you look at the cues his films constantly take from this realm. Pan's Labyrinth was a much superior film in imagining the source of tales because it took seriously their origin. This film seems to think we are incapable of recognizing the value of these tales without the important bits of the story being italicized. The story telling was like talking to someone on the phone who is sure they have a bad connection when they don't - CAN YOU HEAR ME?. Yes, already. I understand that the brothers Weinstein who produced the film may have had something to do with its insulting dumbing down. The viewing experience is saved only by performances of Matt Damon and the late Heath Ledger. Matt Damon plays the wheeler-dealer older brother who manages to convince villages to hire his brother and himself out as Napoleonic ghost busters. Ledger is the young brother with his head in the clouds. They travel the towns until they find a village haunted by a demon, a witch, a troll and while Damon's broth sets up a fake exorcism and collects the cash, Ledger's writes down the legend, that is until they meet the real thing. They are both perfectly silly yet convincing, Damon enjoying being smarmy and Ledger hapless and romantic.The film's opening scene shows the younger brother returning to their poor childhood home having taken beans at the market in exchange for a cow instead of money, hmmm, where have I heard that one before.

Speaking of awful openings, The Darjeeling Limited really had me worried. One is meant to view a short film with Jason Schwartzman, who plays one of the three brothers, in a hotel room in Paris. I'm not sure what one gains by watching this bad imitation of a French art film. He affects a stony-faced unexpressive flatness while dressed in a nice suit listening to the most annoying music I have ever heard. The music is played twenty more times during the film proper and did not improve with successive listenings. I had a bad feeling which was, gratefully, not played out. The film, about three brothers who were deserted by their mother early in the childhood and are now in morning for their father, meet in India for a spiritual journey. The film totally gets dysfunction in the family, particularly around loss, and yet somehow is funny while doing so. The brothers are each going through a rough patch - and each has their trademark way of dealing with the challenge. The more the pressure piles on, the more intensely they become themselves. The casting is wonderful, the humor is dark, the acting is understated and on the mark, and the use of music (with the exception of that one song) is inventive. The Ragazzo didn't like this one as much as The Life Aquatic but I really enjoyed it.


raych said...

Man, I hear you on The Brothers Grimm. It was so obvious and heavy-handed when it could have been kind of clever. The only things that saved it for me were Damon and Ledger (purrrrrrrrrrrrrr...wait. Am I allowed to purrrr about someone who's dead? Yes, I think he would have wanted it that way. Purrrrrr).

Ted said...

R - Pity isn't it about that film? As I watched Ledger's dreamy and anxious characterization, I just couldn't help feeling sad. To have been so miserable and desperate for control in his own life and yet to have given such pleasure to so many.

Anonymous said...

Good to hear your thoughts about this film - I also love Terry Gilliam and was looking forward to trying this one someday. I'll knock it a little further down on the list. Have you seen the documentary about Gilliam's attempt to make Don Quixote? He's got so much energy and vision, it's fascinating. And I love Twelve Monkeys!