Sunday, October 21, 2007

LFF: I'm Not There / Hounds

I'm Not There, Todd Haynes' much-anticipated riff on the life of Bob Dylan, is quite the ambitious enterprise and a huge disappointment. Using six actors to portray various aspects of Dylan, the film jumps back and forth in time and location and confuses greatly. Perhaps Haynes is just too much of a fan, trying to cram in every last utterance of the great man, but the film is deadly in its talkiness, encompassing long, existential monologues and endless debates about whether the artist cares about his audience and whether he feels protest can change the world.

Most successful of the unconventional casting is the mercurial Cate Blanchett, who proves a surprisingly foxy Dylan, whether performing on-stage, or chasing an heiress in the forest. Christian Bale offers a hollow impression while Ben Whishaw and Marcus Carl Franklin are irritating.

And what exactly is Richard Gere doing in this picture? He seems to have wandered in, astride his horse, from a Clint Eastwood western shooting next door. Guest appearances from Julianne Moore, Kim Gordon and Calexico can't save a story that drags badly. No doubt Haynes intended this to be an artful, ambitious alternative to the typical biopic but there's no there there.

Hounds (dir Ann-Kristin Reyels), by contrast, is an engaging art-house picture on a theme of loneliness. Set in a small, wintry German town, the film is engaging and at times enchanting.

Ignored by the locals and estranged from his father, teenaged newcomer Lars bonds with mute Marie, much to the disapproval of her father. Lars' father, on the other hand, has taken up with his sister-in-law and seems insensitive to his son's feelings. The boy consoles himself with long walks in the forest with the eponymous dogs, but even this loses its allure when one of the dogs is killed.

The relationship of Lars and Marie is charted painstakingly, with many silent conversations and visits to a swing by a frozen lake. In one scene Lars and Marie put on masks and prance about on the surface, two outsiders finding understanding.

When Lars' mother arrives with her new boyfriend, the stage is set for a confrontation and resolution but the film then loses its way and the ending is unsatisfying. But the first 85 minutes are a delight.

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