Dir: Vincent Gallo. US. 2003. 118mins
A theory began circulating in Cannes after the press showing of The Brown Bunny, Vincent Gallo's astonishingly self-indulgent second film as director (and producer, and scriptwriter, and... see the credits below for more details). The theory was that the whole thing was actually a wind-up perpetrated at the expense of the Cannes selectors, who must have been gagging to have the high-profile, prickly American maverick in competition. The beauty of the theory is that it sees Gallo setting himself a challenge: how boring can I make this film and still make the official Cannes selection' In a festival year that saw the US and France lock horns in a stand-off that was as much cultural as political, and in a festival whose most eagerly-awaited competition film, Lars von Trier's Dogville, was interpreted by a certain variety of critic as a rabid piece of anti-Americanism, Vincent Gallo has smuggled his all-American secret weapon into the heart of the Palais. "You want auteurs'" we hear him snicker in his strangled Buffalo drawl. "Okay: I'm gonna be such a fuckin auteur I'm gonna make Andrej Tarkovsky look like James fuckin' Cameron. And you know what else' I'm gonna put the blow-job right at the end so you sit through the whole fuckin' two hours."
But let us stand back a moment and consider the story. A Formula II motorcycle racer, Bud Clay (played by Vincent Gallo), puts his burnished gold 250c Honda in a van and drives from New Hampshire to California, where he has another race meet in five days' time. Along the way he sees a lot of cars, a lot of trucks, a lot of road signs, a lot of road: and so do we. Bud is not a happy man. He has problems with women. He picks up a girl with crooked teeth who works in a gas station, persuades her to drop everything and come to California with him, then drives off while she is packing. At another pitstop he buys a bottle of Coke (Bud, like Vincent, is a teetotaller) and sits next to a seasoned blonde at an outside table; within seconds they are kissing passionately. After a few minutes of this, he heads back to the van. Those with sharp eyes will have spotted the road sign at the side of the frame in this shot, which sums up Bud's attitude to women: "Do Not Enter".
Eventually, we realise why Bud is so ravaged. He is obsessed with Daisy (Chloe Sevigny), a girl he loved and lost. He visits Daisy's parents somewhere in smalltown America, in a street of clapperboard houses and plaster Madonnas. In the house is a rabbit, or as Bud insists on referring to it throughout the film, a "bunny": a brown bunny to be precise, which once belonged to Daisy. A later scene in a pet shop serves to establish the fact that Daisy's brown bunny has lived much longer than bunnies are supposed to live: which is, like, weird.
Filmed in a flat, deliberately off-centre and often out-of-focus style on what feels like 16mm (technical details were in short supply in what must surely be this year's shortest final credits), The Brown Bunny offers a few brief moments of visual poetry: lorry tail lights seen through a windscreen in the driving rain refract to red and orange snowflakes; heat haze turns Gallo's speeding motorbike into a shimmering dervish on the Bonneville salt flats. But even these are self-indulgent: every shot is held a good few seconds too long, every banal move (like stopping to get a sweater out of the back of the van) is shown in the kind of plodding detail that is the ' surely tongue in cheek' ' antithesis of modern Hollywood script practice.
Fuel for the piss-take theory outlined above is provided by Gallo's wanton scattering of cineaste symbols. Like Daisy, all the women he meets are named after flowers. When Rose (a hooker) gets into the van, the two are briefly Rose-Bud: surely a Citizen Kane reference' And at a certain point, Bud overtakes a lorry with WERNER written across the back, a clear homage to Herzog. Bud's racing bike is numbered 77, which after Gallo's debut feature Buffalo 66, suggest that the next film will have an 88 theme ' perhaps it will deal with that fateful moment in 1988 when Gallo had his first normal day ("I was in Rome," he told an interviewer, "and I immediately came back to New York and went into therapy in the hope of repeating the experience"). More evidence for the wind-up thesis is provided by the fact that the first real piece of action ' the appearance of Daisy ' kicks in after 90 minutes exactly, when most films are ready for bed.
It is a shame that audiences worldwide are likely to have little chance to enjoy one of the most radically ironic pieces of film-making in recent years. The distributors are unlikely to see the joke, and the censors will only have eyes for the swollen, gobbled member that illuminates the final scene like a Chinese lantern.
Prod co: Vincent Gallo Productions
Co prod: Kinetique
Int'l sales: Kinetique (US/Jap), Wild Bunch (rest of world)
Prod: Vincent Gallo
Scr: Vincent Gallo
Cinematography: Vincent Gallo
Camera op Toshi Ozawa
Prod des: Vincent Gallo
Ed: Vincent Gallo
Main cast: Vincent Gallo, Chloe Sevigny