Friday, November 26, 2010

On Such A Winter's Day

Arizona Dream(1993)
Directed By Emir Kusturica
It's weird, as a viewer, going from something as dense and epic in scope as director Emir Kusturica's "Underground", to the fairy tale tragic romance of "Arizona Dream". Weirder still is the cast of Johnny Depp, Jerry Lewis, Faye Dunaway, Lili Taylor, and Vincent Gallo. The word "dream" comes up at least a dozen times in this movie, characters recounting dreams, or the film seamlessly showing them on screen, and appropriately it begins with a ten minute dream sequence (You only know it's a dream sequence because you're told it is afterwards), of an Eskimo in the snowy wilderness, catching a strange fish with both eyes on the same side, the Eskimo later becomes sick and is nursed back to health by his wife. From there we meet the dreamer Depp, who tags fish in New York, a job he loves because, "Most people think I count fish, but I don't. I look at them. I look at their souls and read their dreams and then I let them into my dreams." Then aspiring actor cousin Vinccent Gallo shows up, and asks Depp to come back to Arizona with him for his Uncle Jerry Lewis's wedding. Depp goes back and accepts a job selling Cadillacs, his uncles dream for them, until he meets an eccentric mother/daughter pair, the suicidal turtle obsessed accordion playing Lili Taylor and her vivacious, flighty, sexually aggressive mother, the latter Depp becomes immediately enamored with. Depp and Dunaway begin a very matter of fact and all consuming relationship (he leaves his job and uncles house and refuses to leave).
After hearing of Dunaway's dreams to fly as a young girl, Depp decides and spends most of the movie, attempting to build her a flying machine. Meanwhile, Lili Taylor is sabotaging the machine, and Vincent Gallo is busy practicing his acting chops (his recreation of the crop duster scene from "North By Northwest" is one of the best all time comedy moments anywhere).All good performances, but Gallo and Taylor clearly outshine the others.. The writing and especially voice over by Depp is excellent, it definitely has a Jean Piere Jeaunut vibe (all the little details and phrases); "My dad always said that work was like a hat you put on your head. And even if you didn't have pants , you didn't have to walk down the street ashamed of your ass as long as you had a hat... " or " what's the point of breathing if somebody already tells you the difference between an apple and a bicycle? If I bite a bicycle and ride an apple, then I'll know the difference."The latter quote sums of the naivete of the main character and the flaw that makes the tragedy. Depps relationships are passionate, sincere, but essentially child like, he doesn't know what to name how he fells about Dunaway so it must be "love".While Dunaway and her daughter are more two halves of the same person, stuck in an isolated country house, both with half the maturity and vitality the other needs. For the most part the movie is all comic smiles, and surreal shots of fish flying in the sky at random, but towards the end, the film takes somber tones, as the dream/relationships end.Not as dense and surreal as I had expected, but it does capture accurately the magical sensation of first love, especially with someone significantly older (without stepping on the toes of similar films like "Harold And Maude" or focusing too heavily on taboo).
There were a few moments of emotional disconnect where the characters actions make little if any literal sense (the Russian roulette scene), but do give a greater sense of the contradictory emotions which almost all of the characters deal with, except Gallo, whose clearly just there for fun.
Arizona Dream caught me off guard, the political allegory of Underground is replaced here with a very internal story of dreamy sensations, fleeting passions, conflicting dreams, conflicting loves, growing up, and magical fish. It's not great, but I definitely connected for personal reasons. If you liked Amelie, or Emir Kusturica, or any of the actors mentioned it's worth checking out.

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