Michel Gondry. US.2007. 101mins
Jean-Luc Godard's famous observation that the best film criticism is to remake the same film is given a deliciously inventive and stylistically daring treatment in virtuoso French director Michel Gondry's fourth feature Be Kind Rewind. It's a jaunty, outrageous and visually inventive fantasia that is wondrous, beguiling and dazzlingly executed.
The conceit immediately conjures up Gondry's work with Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind) and the work Kaufman performed with Spike Jonze (Becoming John Malkovich, Adaptation). Working, like The Science of Sleep, from his own script (the novelist Jonathan Safron Foer contributed some early ideas to the story), Gondry delivers a stinging rebuke to the homogeneity of Hollywood movies and how the increasingly standardization has contributed to a loss of ideas and freedom.
Playing in the Premiere section at Sundance in advance of its Feb. 22nd opening from New Line, the movie is probably the closest to the mainstream that Gondry is likely to register given how ruthlessly he plunders, revivifies and mercilessly reconstructs many of the best known movie titles of the last two decades.
Internationally, Gondry's reputation and track record suggests strong recognition factor in France, UK and Western European markets. Over the long haul, DVD is probably the strongest player in all markets, including the US.
'I've been magnetized,' shrieks Jerry (Black), a suburban New Jersey prankster whose attempt at ecological sabotage against a power utility carries horrifying consequences for the already struggling VHS rental store owned by Mr Fletcher (Glover).
After Jerry inadvertently erases the store's entire catalogue of movies, his best friend Mike (Mos Def), the video manager, seizes on the idea to stage their own versions of movie history. The result are a series of highly eccentric and flamboyant adaptations of recent blockbusters or historically important titles such as King Kong, Ghostbusters, Rush Hour 2, The Lion King and even the Oscar-winning documentary When We Were Kings.
Drawing on the business acumen of a local woman (Diaz), the two create a surging business model that radically inflates demand and forces them to hire the colourful, quixotic members of the neighbourhood, from older Jewish merchants to hip-hop kids. It all immediately revives the struggling fortunes of the store though also draws the wrath of the MPAA, sharply incarnated by Sigourney Weaver as a rapacious industry lawyer.
The conflict provides a fantastic and deeply moving conclusion that turns into a meditation on communal power and social cohesion of the movies, related through an alternately tender and vibrant portrait of the jazz pianist Fats Waller.
Be Kind Rewind is a celebration of art and personality, acknowledging pioneers from Georges Melies and Charlie Chaplin to raging perfectionists such as Stanley Kubrick. Gondry has the soul of a poet and the lightness and verve of an artist.
He creates evocative, jaw-dropping visual ideas, like Jerry and Mike deploying negative Xeroxed copies of their own profiles to achieve a reverse effect, or a purely surreal moment worthy of Magritte involving Mike and a power warning label. With his excellent cinematographer Ellen Kuras, Gondry turns his work into a dance of movement and expression.
The movie does not quite reach the extended intensity of feeling and anguish of Gondry's greatest work Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. The story of Glover's struggles to ward off developers lacks the power and surprise of the primary story line.
The two lead actors play off each other terrifically, Black's madcap energy beautifully dovetailing with Mos Def's quiet self-reserve. Glover brings a quiet dignity to the work. Diaz is also magnetic, showcasing just the right balance of toughness and moxie. Like the entire movie, she's irresistible.
Partizan Films (US)
New Line Cinema (US)
International sales/US distributor
New Line Cinema
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