Monday, January 23, 2006

Film Notes: The Brown Bunny (2003)

Have you noticed how many film reviews these days talk about other reviews of the movie? Blame the Internet, but I'm not going to do it. So, as far as you know, nobody has ever heard of this movie before.

It's a shame too, because the film is sad, beautiful and haunting in a way that few modern films are. Essentially a road picture, in which the fundamental loneliness of the American road is captured in a way I've never quite seen before, The Brown Bunny portrays a man so wrecked by romantic tragedy that he can connect with no one else. Vincent Gallo plays Bud Clay, whose name is likely intended to evoke the sort of earth that flowers have difficulty taking root in, as every female character in the film is named after a flower. Bud is a motorcycle rider who has to drive cross-country while trying to piece together the pieces of a shattered relationship with an ex named Daisy.

Everything about the character speaks of loneliness. The scene in which he tries to pick up a girl in a convenience store with a whimpered "Please" is so vulnerable that it's just devastating. How often do we see anyone be vulnerable in movies anymore? Is that, perhaps, another reason people are going to see Brokeback Mountain? Do we miss connecting with other humans through the medium of film? What is most startling about Gallo's performance is how sustained it is. In fact, what's amazing about the film is that it often looks like a home movie, and yet how totally controlled it is! Not only is every scene timed out precisely, but every piece of the film reveals just enough for Gallo's purposes. It's the most accomplished amateurish film imaginable.

The home movie effect is intended to evoke distant and faded memories. Old film stock (here 16 millimeter?) is perfect for showing the way memories fade and become more stark. When we get to the final revelation of the film it seems almost submerged underneath a haze of sorrow and confusion. How did Gallo do this?

The film is a revelation, even though it's a minimalist and off-putting one. The on-camera oral sex scene is the centerpiece of the film, although the scene that follows it is the more brilliant one. The blow-job scene itself will be most remembered, no doubt. But, forget for a moment that Chloe Sevingy gives head on camera, and notice how the scene brings out the weakness of male sexuality: she drains him physically and emotionally, and leaves him devastated. Is the scene misogynist? Only if we accept that nobody can ever make another film in which a male dates the wrong girl, or that such a thing never happens.

Besides, the following scene places the misogyny squarely on Bud's lonely shoulders and leaves him to wander the roads like the ancient mariner with male sexuality as the albatross around his neck. This film should be taken as a classic. Will it be? Time will tell.

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