CANNES ’99 REVIEW: Winterbottom’s “Wonderland,” a Pleasant Find
by David Bourgeois
Laudatory cheers and sustained applause followed Thursday’s press screening of
“Wonderland,” the latest film by the
seriously underrated director Michael Winterbottom, a regular here at
the Festival. Many journalists who saw it all espoused a similar
sentiment: Even though it’s
only the third day of the Festival, “Wonderland” is,
without a doubt, the strongest film yet.
Known for tackling a variety of different projects
and subject matter, Winterbottom feels equally at home directing films
such as the brilliant “Jude” (a period-piece that debuted here in the
Directors Fortnight), “Welcome to Sarajevo” (an in-your-face,
documentary-style film that was in competition in 1997), and “Go Now“
and “Butterfly Kiss” (straight up fiction).
Unfortunately, he’s not the kind of director that’s labeled “brilliant”
by “Those Who Anoint”; he’s
less auteur and more of a bread-and-butter director.
Thus, it’s a longshot that “Wonderland” will win anything here — perhaps
an award for one of the film’s remarkable actors, or, at best,
Winterbottom could steal the best director award.
Set in present-day London (and cast with virtual unknowns, with the
exception of Brit regular Ian Hart) the story spans one long weekend
in the lives of about a dozen characters and interweaves several
stories centered around one semi-dysfunctional family.
Three daughters couldn’t be more dissimilar. Nadia
(Gina McKee) goes on various dates with men whom she meets via a dating
service. Most are less than stimulating, with the exception of Tim
(Stuart Townsend), a seemingly genuine and equally lonely soul. Debbie
(Shirley Henderson) is separated from her irresponsible and
beer-swilling husband Dan (Hart) and is barely capable of caring for
their child. Molly, nine months pregnant, seemingly has it all: a
loving but spineless husband Eddie (John Simm) who is stuck in his
dead-end job as a salesman of fitted kitchens.
The parents of the three are equally complex characters: the mother is
a bitter, dower, nag with a twisted side, while the father is loving
toward his daughters, but laments the life he’s living. Much like a
working-class, British version of Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts,” the
film’s stories criss-cross, and at first it’s puzzling to figure out
how they all come
The film succeeds greatly in illustrating the daily grind of average
urban citizens. To keep true to this feel, the film itself was shot
using a handheld camera on 16mm and blown up to 35mm, locations were
picked and shot as is, and no artificial lights or extras were
used– a watered down version of the rules encompassing Lars von Trier’s
Winterbottom is at his best when he’s exploring relationships of
everyday people. He can illicit more emotion and feeling with a single
camera shot than most directors can with dozens of pages of dialogue.
(Though Michael Nyman’s highly affecting orchestral score adds much to
the intensity of the feelings.) If the script, by Laurence Coriat (his
feature film debut), was in the hands of another director, the outcome
could have been disastrous. Thankfully “Wonderland” is a pleasant find
in a festival that normally panders to more high and mighty cineastes.