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Thursday, September 10, 2009

This week at SFC:Mister Lonely





Thursday September 10th

All our screenings are FREE ones

We will pay some homage to the King of Pop before and after the feature which starts at 8:30pm

MISTER LONELY (Harmony Korine/UK Ireland France USA/2007/112')

Mister Lonely by A.O. Scott

It’s with some reluctance that I describe "Mister Lonely" by Harmony Korine, as dreamlike. Dreams are often vague, chaotic and dull, and other people’s dreams are notoriously uninteresting. “Mister Lonely” is enigmatic, its moods and meanings sometimes elusive in the way that dreams can be, but nearly every frame is an image of arresting clarity and beauty. And even when it strays beyond the border of sense, you can’t help accepting its logic and its truth, much as you do when your unconscious spools pictures in your sleep.

Mr. Korine’s previous films — he directed "Gummo" and “Julien Donkey-Boy” after writing the screenplay for Larry Clark's "Kids" — were nightmares, harsh and provocative and hard to shake. In defending “Julien Donkey-Boy” from the scorn of other critics, Roger Ebert once remarked that Mr. Korine had “the soul of a real filmmaker,” a judgment that “Mister Lonely,” arriving nearly 10 years later, decisively confirms. In richly colored, wide-frame compositions that seem at once utterly natural and unspeakably strange, Mr. Korine seems to conjure a strange, haunted world. Or maybe, stranger still, he has uncovered a reality hidden in plain sight on the surface of everyday life.

The geography of “Mister Lonely,” which was filmed in Paris, Scotland and Panama, is divided into two distinct zones. In one, an exuberant priest (Werner Herzog, speaking of cinematic visionaries) supervises an order of nuns somewhere in the jungle and flies over remote settlements dropping food from a small plane. On one such mission a nun discovers she can fly, a professed miracle that may have more to do with the power of film than with the presence of God.

Meanwhile — elsewhere? in another dimension? — a Michael Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna) meets a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Samantha Morton) who tells him of a commune in the Scottish Highlands where people like them can live without shame or self-consciousness. She describes her own family in the careful language of identity politics: a husband (Denis Lavant) who “lives as Charlie Chaplin” and a young daughter (Esme Creed-Miles) who “lives as Shirley Temple.”

What this means turns out to be a bit puzzling once Michael follows Marilyn home. There, he finds a pope (James Fox), a Queen Elizabeth II (Anita Pallenberg), a Sammy Davis Jr. (Jason Pennycooke) and a notably foul-mouthed Abraham Lincoln (Richard Strange), among others, who tend sheep and think about putting on a big show.

Whether “living as” famous people extends beyond dressing like them is hard to say, and in any case this odd, utopian experiment is soon undermined by jealousy, livestock disease and worse. An undercurrent of persistent pain, suggested in the title, blossoms in the last part of the film, as its low-key whimsy swerves surprisingly and not quite effectively into melodrama.

Though Mr. Luna and especially Ms. Morton play their roles without cuteness or camp, the story does not quite cohere, and perhaps it isn’t meant to. Mr. Korine, who wrote “Mister Lonely” with his brother Avi, seems to be more interested in the expressive power of pictures than in conventional psychology. And there will most likely be those who find his sensibility frustratingly hermetic, morbidly preoccupied with the poetry of compositions and camera movements and archly detached from the emotional currents of the story.

And yet “Mister Lonely,” self-enclosed though it may be, nonetheless demonstrates that Mr. Korine, who showed his ability to shock and repel in earlier films, also has the power to touch, to unsettle and to charm. This is undoubtedly a small movie, but it’s also more than that: it’s a small, imperfect world.


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