TIFF 2013 – What is to Give Light, Must Endure Burning: Frank Pavich’s JODOROWSKY’S DUNE

DUNE-HEADLINE

JODOROWSKY’S DUNE is so much more than a documentary about the cult filmmaker’s infamously ambitious attempt to adapt Frank Herbert’s novel. It’s about more than the pitfalls of the Hollywood system, or about its tendency towards stifling creativity. It’s about what it means to put your heart and soul into a piece of art, only to have it taken away from you and never properly realized. As Richard Stanley – one of the guest filmmakers featured in the film – describes it, it is the inability to exorcise a project which you’ve allowed to live under your skin for so long.

And that’s really what is at the core of Pavich’s exploration of the failed project: this lack of closure and release. Though the film is packed full of amazing interviews, images and ideas from the project, the entire affair is overshadowed by the fact that all of this work, all this passion, was eventually all for naught. Sure, it’s fun to hear Jodorowsky wax nostalgic about the film (some of his stories are downright hilarious), but it’s hard to forget that the intensity and depth of the project will eventually amount to nothing. It definitely lends a more sinister and saddening subtext to the film.

But it also happens to be what gives the film its emotional weight. Any artist who has ever had a project – one which they’d invested so much of themselves into – fall apart knows the feeling: that crippling disappointment, that knowledge that this thing you wanted more than anything to bring into the world will probably never see the light of day. It’s a heavy burden for some, though maybe not for others – some artists may find that they are simply able to move onto the next project without any emotional devastation. Jodorowsky is not one of these people, and it’s evident over the course of the film that he still has deep, emotional ties to DUNE.

Pavich’s documentary is blanketed with this feeling of disappointment, and even in spite of all the fun, all the wonder, all the general good vibes, there is still a longing underneath it all. So when the titular filmmaker finally explodes at the end of the film, when he finally lets out his anger and his rage at the almighty dollar for killing his dream, it’s a deeply satisfying moment.

Jodorowsky makes for a wonderful subject, and Pavich and co. do a terrific job of capturing the filmmaker’s humanity, his idiosyncrasies and his joyful nature. Though they briefly contextualize his career, they wisely devote the bulk of the film to the titular project; it is, after all, a deeply compelling “what-if” film that could have had serious ramifications for the genre and Hollywood as a whole. It includes interviews with contemporary filmmakers (like the aforementioned Stanley, as well as Nicolas Winding Refn), critics (Drew McWeeny and Devin Faraci) and several of the artists involved (H.R. Giger, Michel Seydoux, Chris Foss, Amanda Lear and Jodorowsky’s own son, Brontis), painting a vivid picture of what the film meant at the time of its inception, as well as in the many decades since.

Giving unprecedented access to the project’s storyboards, concept art, script decisions, casting stories and more, this is the definitive resource for fans of the filmmaker, the franchise and for cinema historians as a whole.

[B+]

d.a. garabedian

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Micro-Review: Colin Trevorrow’s SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is exactly the film that you think it is, and that can either be perceived as a positive or negative thing, depending on where you stand. It’s predictable, certainly, but it’s also endearingly heartfelt and poignant, and that’s really what saves the film from falling into the bitter entrapments of so many other indie dramedies.

The film – which comes from newcomers Colin Trevorrow behind the camera and Derek Connolly on the page – is a fast, tightly constructed love story with a few high-concept trimmings to keep things fresher than your usual mumblecore fare. Thrusting the audience into the story almost immediately, Trevorrow wastes absolutely no time in getting right to the heart of the plot: a man, who has taken out an ad in a local magazine, is seeking a co-conspirator with which he might travel back in time.

The story is delightfully absurd, and though the filmmakers obviously have no interest in delving into actual science-fiction territory, there is also a clear interest in the thematic weight of the passage of time. Unfortunately, as soon as it becomes apparent that this film is a character study rather than a heady, existentialist story, it also becomes immediately apparent where the story is going to go. Characters in parallel stories bounce off of one another thematically, all learning a valuable lesson about the fleetingness of time. It’s all a bit safe, but nobody can fault the filmmakers for their lack of earnestness.

Still, the casting is spot on, and it’s the actors who elevate the film above its safe territory. Aubrey Plaza (who is basically playing a similar role to the one that she always does), is really coming into her own as the go-to, cynically apathetic young voice of a generation, and the script finally gives her a chance to stretch her limits in the final act of the film – which, thankfully, she handles admirably. Alongside her is the ever-charming Jake Johnson who, again, plays a virtually identical character to the one he’s fast becoming known for (they might as well have named him Nick here, too). Not that this is a complaint; he’s still as funny as ever, and he handles the majority of the comedy beats throughout with the kind of reckless awkwardness that he does so well. Relative newcomer Karan Soni also does a great job with the small role the film asks of him.

Luckily, Mark Duplass crafts a compellingly abstract character in Kenneth, the would-be time-traveller. Duplass has a tendency to gravitate towards roles in films like this (as both he and his brother are both well-known directors in the mumblecore movement, and this is well within his comfort zone), but Kenneth gives him a chance to do something a little different with the role, and the occasional cracks in his smug facade are a welcome change of pace for the actor.

Where the film really shines, however, is in the final half hour. The pleasant but I’m-already-forgetting-it-as-I’m-watching-it nature of the first hour aside, Trevorrow and Connolly do a really excellent job of hammering down the poignancy in the final act, giving the story some much-needed adrenaline and bringing it to a solid close. The film has some touching statements to make about the relationships we forge and the “pain of an old wound” (to quote a little Don Draper) which can be both irresistible and dangerous, but it all feels just a little “been there, done that”. That being said, a pair of scenes certainly do shine brightly: one, where Plaza and Duplass discuss – with disarming accuracy – the hollowness of unattainable, past moments (“It’s that time, and it’s that place, and it’s that song…”), and another with a song around a campfire.

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED is a light, enjoyable film, but little else. And though it does well enough in establishing themes which it carries across multiple story-lines to their logical conclusions, everything feels a bit too safe to be as effective as the film thinks they are. But there’s nothing wrong with a little light fare now and again, is there?

7/10

d.a. garabedian