17 November 2006 | warren-10
A New Transcendental Film
This is one half of a review. Some films need to be seen more than once to be fully grasped. This is one of them.
I would like to read Paul Schrader's review of this film. Not because he wrote the screenplay for Taxi Driver, but because he wrote a book about "Transcendental Style in Film" and "The Fountain" is certainly in this category of film-making.
Because of Schrader's book, I've been viewing as many films by Dreyer, Ozu, and Bresson, that I can lay my hands on especially those by Robert Bresson. There are many parallels between Aronofsky's film and Bresson, and yet their style is completely different it's like comparing a Tintype photograph with a Van Gogh: Bresson is understated while Aronofsky is over the top. Yet, both directors create films that are best viewed more than once. Both styles leave a lot to the imagination which can be frustrating on the first viewing. I certainly was. This is why I consider this to be one half of a review. I've only seen this film once.
The Fountain has three story lines: one set in the past, one in the present, and one set ostensibly in the future. The three timelines weave in an out of each other like a Chinese puzzle. The past is poetic, the present is realistic, and the future is plausible. Moreover the future be either a real future (as cinematic futures go) or merely a dream of the future. So, this could be a very subjective story that takes place now. It is ambiguous, mysterious, and subject to personal interpretation. In this regard, The Fountain, is very much like the films of Bresson.
Bresson once mentioned that he intentionally avoids the obvious in his film; it is the mystery that propels the viewer's interest forward. Often later scenes reveal the mystery of that earlier enigma. This is a very literary form of film-making. Last night, I was surrounded by people in the audience who wanted every plot detail handed to us on a silver platter. As this was a sneak preview, we all got in for free. Some were probably expecting the extremes of "Requiem for a Dream". A group next to me left early. As I was leaving, I heard a teen say into her cell phone "don't bother to pay for this film wait for it when it is on TV
for free". And I agree: if you can tolerate a lot of commercial TV and prefer magazines to books, then you may not like this film. If you read some of the reviews, for Bresson, you'll get some of the same impatience. These are films which break with what you'd expect from a film. Forget that you're in a movie theater; this piece will reward an open mind.
The acting in The Fountain is very dynamic but there was not enough breathing room for empathy. There is only one break in the tension when there could have been more. Instead, to serve the three story lines, the tension feels like one continuous climb. A tearful moment, from one storyline, leads to another tearful moment in another storyline. The group next to me the one that ultimately left were snickering. It feels like overacting, even though each performance is convincing, on its own. So, I felt my empathy in suspension. A different edit would have added more power to the emotional timbre of the acting. I find myself wishing for another 20 minutes of story to draw me in.
The music blended very well with the story they never stood apart, which is ideal for a cinematic score. The visuals, however, did break the suspension of disbelief, on a few occasions. In one case, there was a tracking shot that uses a unique point of view that took me out of the story, thinking "wow, cool shot!", instead of thinking "I wonder where he is going". There is a certain amusement ride feel to some of the cinematography and Special Effects which detracts from the story. But, these shots are not gimmicks. They're premonitions and echoes of action in other sequences. They are crazy bold, like Van Gogh's brushstrokes tracing out a landscape. These bold strokes are the first thing that I notice, about "The Fountain". But, upon reflection, they paint a picture that is rather calm.
I look forward to seeing this movie again.