Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Rabbit Holes And Talking Heads

Did people actually hate The Brothers Grimm? Do people actually hate Speed Racer? Is this a sign of the impending Armageddon? Is the world coming to an end, because I do seem to detect that visually interesting films are universally hated and ignored now?

I've always been a Terry Gilliam fan. This admiration is not an extension of a Monty Python fanaticism. I like directors who have a very personal, idiosyncratic storytelling and visual style. Gilliam, from the very beginning, has had a very interesting style that you can immediately identify him with. That style is so solid that it can seemingly only fit certain themes. But Gilliam has already proven the opposite; instead it's his style that can inject any story with a certain frantic pace and bug-eyed curiosity. His remake of Chris Marker's masterpiece La Jetee, my all-time favourite film, showed that he understood the emotional anchor of Marker's film and where it comes from.

I had been curious about Tideland and had followed it since its post-production. The initial images were strong. And the fact that Gilliam shot it independently in between making The Brothers Grimm, made it even more interesting.

Well, I finally caught it on DVD, and I must say, it's a pretty amazing film, albeit very, very disturbing. It's perhaps Gilliam's darkest work. But it's also very, very funny. It's almost completely non-plot-driven and relies almost entirely on its lead Jodelle Ferland's watchability. And boy, can she act.

It's a fascinating look at loneliness, neglect and insanity, also fascinating because of how much restraint Gilliam exercises here. Even though the opportunities are plenty for him to exact his usual fantastical whimsies, there is only really one fantasy sequence. I think it is this stronger root in realism than his other films that makes Tideland so much darker, with a very bitter aftertaste that gets more unpalatable as the film goes along. There's a feeling that things could tip over into extremes at any second, and it's this sense of teetering on the edge that drives the film despite the lack of a strong plot.

The barren but beautiful Saskatchewan landscape perfectly balances the grim proceedings inside the houses and minds of its mad characters, and provides perhaps the only respite from the madness that threatens to overwhelm us.

This is Gilliam freewheeling in a state of insane bliss. If in his previous films, the childlike innocence was always in danger of being shattered by the grown-up world around it, this time the child's innocence, with its talking doll heads and rabbit holes, is seductively magnetic to those around it and threatens to gobble up everything like a black hole in space.

Tideland is bleakly beautiful like the land of dry wheat fields and scraggly trees that it inhabits.

COPYRIGHT POLICY: It's simple: Steal my stuff and I'll kick you in the nuts