"Nobody knows the trouble I've seen, Nobody knows, but Jared!" Actually, this film is about some 118-year-old man trying to remember the troubles he's seen, so I don't reckon he even knows, which isn't to say that watching him try to figure out isn't as uninteresting as it sounds. This film is pretty much a combination of "Fringe", "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", "The Butterfly Effect", "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind" and "The Fountain"... on acid. Well, if you've ever seen those efforts, I suppose that acid statement goes without saying. Actually, I think a better comparison is just "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", or at least one scene, because if anyone remembers that scene in which Benjamin describes all of the events preceding a car collision, then started all the way over to talk about what could have happened differently, this is pretty much that "The Movie", and I make such a specific reference because I feel that if you're aware of this film, then you must have seen "Benjamin Button", seeing as how this is probably - ready for a bombshell - ... Jared Leto's most obscure film ever, and strutting Sam Rockwell, that's saying a lot. Well, that is quite the shame, because on top of being the most obscure film starring Jared Leto, this is film is, well, pretty awesome to be such a European art film, probably because it's actually English-language. Hey, I don't want to sound shallow as a film buff who is supposed to be well-versed in European cinema, but this thing is confusing enough in a language I understand, which isn't to say that the problems end there.
If this film is absolutely nothing else, it's mighty dynamic, or rather, too dynamic for its own good, even within tone, which has a tendency to jarringly break between color, maybe even tongue-in-cheek humor and fluff, as well as weighty dramatic tension and resonance, and even profound artistry, but at least keeps consistent in a certain heavy-handedness, which plagues fluffier aspects with a certain cheese, weightier aspects with melodramatics, and the more artistic aspects with overblown themes that sometimes comes to the border of, if not cross into pretense. The film's eccentricities and histrionics, even with the tonal unevenness taken out of account, limit a sense of intrigue, further worn down by a certain unevenness to atmospheric bite, because even though there are a number of unexpected colorful spots to keep entertainment value pumping pretty firmly, bland spots established through quiet dryness stiffen pacing, forcing you to feel every beat of a storytelling style that is often realized enough to not descend into dullness, but is sometimes actually pretty boring, perhaps frustratingly so. The film is so well-crafted that it entertains much more than plenty of other extreme meditative art pieces, but that just makes it all the more unfortunate once atmosphere dries up and the effort finds itself slipping into a certain coldness, caused by overly thoughtful directorial touches whose questionability goes matched by certain odd touches in writing, which don't exactly end with the aforementioned overblown tonal extremes. The film thrives on style in many, many different forms, and each one of those forms often get carried away in their handling, bloated with inconsequential filler set pieces that often devolve as visually and thematically bizarre in their being so artistically overblown. The film is so stylistically ambitious that substance suffers, seeing a disjointed narrative that often sacrifices genuine depth for offbeat stylization, and is convoluted on its own by an arguably overly complex storyline that is itself too ambitious for its own good. It's difficult to fully describe how convoluted and overstylized this extreme art piece gets to be at times, but rest assured that there is a lot of danger in Jaco Van Dormael's questionable ambitions as an artistic filmmaker whose efforts are so remarkably inspired and realized that they transcend the shortcomings and craft a final product that is, not simply rewarding or strong, but truly outstanding, but nonetheless has its directorial issues, which, upon meeting such other issues as tonal unevenness and heavy-handedness, as well as dull spells, make quite the challenging drama. Yes, I say that this drama is challenging because it has its misguided aspects, like too many other art pieces which range from barely rewarding to pretty much disastrous, so I can't promise that this film is for everyone, but even for me, a critic who is particularly cautious with his take on films this artistically overblown and overambition, this effort succeeds relatively substantially, through all of its shortcomings and questionable traits, as a relatively outstanding piece that delivers on profound substance, in addition, of course, to phenomenal style.
Even the film's musical style stands pretty far out, flaunting a killer soundtrack that is richly diverse, with delightful classic songs that range from many, many different generations and include Buddy Holly's "Everday", Pixies' "Where Is My Mind", Otis Redding's "For Your Precious Love", Wallace Collection's "Daydream", a bunch of different versions of The Chordettes' "Mister Sandman", and so much more, while being joined by hauntingly beautiful scoring, both unoriginal and composed for this film by the now-late Pierre Van Dormael, while at least keeping consistent in sustaining a certain liveliness that isn't usually in this rich of form in art pieces this extreme. With sharp musical tastes and even some nifty little sound mixing tricks, this film is even soaring from an audible standpoint, and from a visual standpoint, it's more-or-less a bona fide masterpiece, with Stéphane Taillasson delivering on stellar art direction whose distinguished production values capture each stage of a timeline which spans from the latter-mid-1900s to the distant future with intricately lavish color, complimented by visual effects that, while held back by a somewhat limited budget, stand out in their blending into this world pretty organically, and being refreshing by their own right in delivering unique and memorably nifty visuals. Of course, the finest polish over the visual style of this film is applied by Christophe Beaucarne's cinematography, whose impeccable definition gives you firm insight into crisp lighting and rich coloration that utilize modern technical proficiencies at their sharpest in order to deliver on breathtaking image after breathtaking image, made all the sharper by the other aspects of visual style just discussed. Storytelling style is where problematic overstylization comes in, if you disregard the strangeness of certain plays with, say, visual style and what have you, because when it comes to most every other artistic expression in this experimental opus, the film is nothing short of a marvel that showcases colorful musical style and transcendent technical and visual style, yet isn't completely all about the style that is handled so remarkably. Overstylization kind of hazes your view into the full potential of substance, and it's not like the basic story concept isn't itself often pretty overblown with its exhaustive layering, yet through it all is an idea for a plot that is, well, utter dramatic genius, juggling so many different branches, almost all of which carry individual intrigue that ranges from solid to profound. From a root story about an old man struggling to recollect the whole of an emotional life during its last day are stories of choosing sides in a family, falling in love, compensating for love lost, caring for and mourning the loss of loved ones, facing approaching doom, finding success and failure, facing the future, and embracing your past for all its worth, and such a plot structure is hard to work with, - as reflected by some dramatic fumblings - but conceptually stellar, and considering how bloated the artistic license of this avant-garde drama is, it's hard to not fear a failure to do justice to potential that, by what has to be some kind of a miracle, is fulfilled by an inspired interpretation.
Jaco Van Dormael's script certainly has its flaws, not just because it's so overblown with questionable stylistic touches to storytelling, but because it has moments in which it gets carried away with fluffier attributes, if not melodramatics and, of course, near-pretentious thematic value, but when it's all said and done, this screenplay plays no small role in bringing life to solid ideas, keeping up some liveliness with clever dialogue and humor, as well as colorful set pieces that, while often strange, carry much in the way of fun factor to endear you during the lighter points in this narrative. As for the deeper attributes of scripting, Van Dormael further delivers, with intriguing, if near-arrogantly ambitious themes on separating reality from fantasy, - and embracing both major attributes in life - that flavor up well-rounded explorations of dramatic depths, anchored by moving sentimental beats and rich, memorable characterization that crafts a worthy roster of characters who are narratively valuable. As thematic devices and dramatic figures who compel by their own right, the characters compel, even on paper, and when it comes to the long run, they are truly brought to life by a cast which is pretty much comprised of charismatic, heartfelt and all committed performances, with standouts that include a devastating Sarah Polley as an emotionally unstable burden on loved ones, and young newcomer Toby Regbo, who is revelatory in his subtly emotional, often passionate and sympathetic leading of the angsty teenaged years of the titular Nemo Nobody character. Of course, it's leading man Jared Leto's performance that is truly soaring, because before Leto went on hiatus as one of today's great actors, he left us with an ever so sweet taste through one of the best performances of his career, in which he has to be seen in order to be believed, due to a mesmerizing diversity that sees Leto effortlessly nailing all sorts of different dialects in the English-born and, in some realities, raised Nobody, in addition to the distinguished dramatic layers that define Nobody as a successful intellectual, a bum wondering what could have been, depressed, loving, unloving, and, yes, even old. Leto is decidedly at his absolute finest when the layers, upon layers, upon layers of aging make-up tarnish his classic good looks and leave him to captivate in his impeccable capturing of the crippled mannerisms and behavior, and a sense of charm, confusion, regret, fear and wisdom within an old men trying to get a grip on a life that rests at its brink, but the sheer diversity of Leto's performance, alone, is simply masterful, and it's made all the better when Leto incorporates subtle touches that go a long way in changing the portrayals of Nobody that still never lose a consistent depth which defines our lead. Leto carries the film with yet another phenomenal performance, but with all my praise of Leto and his peers, as well as the contributors to the wealth of value to style and substance, it's Jaco Van Dormael's directorial orchestration of this drama's attributes that can carry the final product to the excellent point that it does, in fact, reach, despite Van Dormael's questionable touches as a filmmaker, thanks in part to Van Dormael's orchestration of style behind colorful imagery, snappy editing and immersive camerawork which is generally tight in deliverance of aesthetic liveliness, and largely thanks to Van Dormael's tasteful utilization of thoughtfully subtle atmospherics and tender scoring, if not heights in writing and acting that cuts through all of the melodramatics and sentimentality in order to draw on the raw heart of substance and resonance, sometimes piercingly so, to where you are immersed into worthy themes on mortality, and moved by Nemo's intriguing story. Van Dormael has a lot of nerve taking such an abstractionist approach to such real and promising subject matter, and his ambition to bloat style, if not substance, to a convoluted point ought to hold the final product back pretty substantially, maybe even run the risk of destroying this drama, just as an overwrought artistic license has and will continue to destroy plenty of questionable visions, yet this is one of those occasions in which all of the nonsense is filed down and true potential is met, perhaps partly through the artistic ambition, whose sense of uniqueness allows you to attach yourself to an idea that Van Dormael, with the help of a solid technical proficiency, script and cast, breathes so much life into so often, maybe not to where I can promise that anyone will be thoroughly rewarded, but certainly to where I'd be lying if I didn't say that many are sure to join me in falling in love with the charm, intrigue, beauty and depths of this intellectual, emotional and all around artistic triumph.
When the story ends, then the other story ends, then the other story end, and so on and so on, the final product's excellence is seriously threatened by inconsistencies in tone whose extremes carry their own questionable traits, as well as by dull spells in atmosphere, overstylization, and convolution, all behind overambition, but near-miraculously secured through the snappy editing, solid soundtrack, immersive art direction, nifty visual effects and breathtaking cinematography that define outstanding style, as well as through the thematically intelligent and dramatically rich scripting, excellent acting, - especially by Sarah Polley, Toby Regbo and, most of all, the stellar Jared Leto - and generally incredibly tight direction that define Jaco Van Dormael's "Mr. Nobody" as a thoroughly stylish, intelligent, moving and outstanding portrait on reality and life, and how both can be radically affected by the subtlest touches.
3.5/5 - Excellent