Dir/scr GoranDukic. US. 2006.91mins.
Croatian director Goran Dukic's endearingly oddball Wristcutters: A Love Story is a strange, somewhat unaccountable mess sharpenedby a brainy conceit and some wonderfully underplayed acting.
It's an overstuffed roadmovie brimming with ideas and feeling about a lost world of disaffected souls. Steepedin a mordant black humour about suicide and emotional rejuvenation, it makesfor a not-quite-there comedy that feels severely overextended by the finalsections, almost desperate for approval and self-congratulation. It also lacksthe brevity and terseness of the source material, Israeli writer Etgar Keret's novella Kneller's Happy Campers.
Strangely the film'sweaknesses remain oddly compelling, underlining its strange hold and stressingthat even when it is not always interesting or a fully imagined piece of work,it is not a film easily forgotten.
Dukic is clearly a talented director with a bracing,contradictory sense of humour at once pessimistic and reassuring. Thematicallythe movie is probably closest to Albert Brooks' Defending Your Life or Wes Anderson's off-centre comedies (Rushmore, The Life Aquatic) of failure and regret.
Though it was shut out ofofficial commendation at Sundance and left the festival without a domesticdistribution pact, this dramatic competition title gained a peculiar word ofmouth following among writers, festival spectators and smaller distributors,and the odd, crazy rhythm is precisely the kind of internet-driven, undergroundfollowing that leads to a cult hit.
A mid-range specialisedplayers is likely to put the title in play, and it should perform decently incable and DVD.
The opening finds a youngdepressive Zia (Fugit) whose failed relationshipdrives him to open a vein and unflinchingly watch his blood decorate hisapartment floor. The afterlife he is entombed in is a mysterious paralleluniverse comprising a blue dusted purgatory where "everything is the same, onlya little worse."
It's a dingy, lower depthsuniverse of empty boulevards, desultory juke bars and barren landscapes and populatedby people who have died at their own hand. Making fast friends with angregarious Russian musician, Eugene (Whigham) - in afunny aside on Russian melancholy, his whole family is stuck there - the twoventure on a road trip after Zia discovers theoffending girlfriend, Desiree (Bibb), is also now apermanent resident, and he is desperate to renew their acquaintance.
Steeped in references to The Wizard Of Oz,Easy Rider and Lewis Carroll, thestandard themes of the road movie - aimlessness and alienation - have a surrealkick. The movie is strongest in the middle sections with the addition of aluminous hitchhiker, Mikal (Sossamon),whose arrival fuels the tensions and romantic rivalries of the two men, and amysterious benefactor (Waits), who runs a commune for tortured souls.
Insisting she wasincorrectly sent to this dystopia, Mikal awakens thesluggish Zia, providing a sexy, fascinating portraitof desire and fascination that is the complete opposite of the beautiful thoughemotionally inconsequential Desiree he left behind.
Had the movie played outthese differences more significantly, it could have been a small classic. Insteadit trots out a messiah (Arnett), and the kind of withering, coercive New Agepolitics that has little sting or sense of originality.
The film needs a bounce andlift to successfully play off the wistful tone. At its strongest moments Wristcutters is awork of some marvellous, isolated moments that even if chaotically arrangedsuggest talent and verve on the part of the director. If the strong partstestify to what sweeps the imagination, it also points to the frustration ofwhat could have been.
No Matter Pictures
c/o Required Viewing
Mikal P. Lazarev
Based on the novella Kneller'sHappy Campers, by Etgar Keret
Mikal P. Lazarev
Mark Boone Jr.
Mary Pat Gleason