By Peter Knegt | Indiewire May 23, 2009 at 1:05AM
Nearly overshadowing the film itself is the story of "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus"'s troubled production which, after the death of star Heath Ledger last year, was nearly shut down. Speaking at Cannes earlier today, however, director Terry Gilliam noted that “everybody in the cast and everbody in the crew was determined that this film would be finished... It was people’s love for Heath that propelled this thing forward. We finished the film for Heath.” As for the film itself, indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez called the it "a messy spectactle" in which "Terry Gilliam is exploring the importance of storytelling and imagination, taking viewers into his own mind, weaving a story comprised of ideas he’s been collecting for years."
Most critics have expressed appreciation for the way that Gilliam cleverly handled Ledger's absence from the film (bringing in Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell to play his role after he steps through a mirror and enters Gilliam’s imaginary world late in the film) but expressed reservations about the movie as a whole.
"Marred by shoddy special effects and half-formed fantastical conceits, Terry Gilliam’s 'The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus' has the feeling of a comic fantasia desperately seeking to find its rhythm," writes Eric Kohn for indieWIRE noting, however, that it still "deserves to be seen, probed and evaluated as an interesting misfire in Gilliam’s delectably quizzical canon."
Meanwhile, The Hollywood Reporter's Ray Bennett writes that the film "allows Gilliam to employ his remarkable gift for imagery but the worlds he creates will not take the breath away of children or grownups. The combined star power involved will generate a plentiful boxoffice return but the film is not intelligent enough nor silly or grotesque enough to become a lasting favorite."
Finally, the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw observes that "When Gilliam shoots off into his surreal wonderland, his film has a kind of helium-filled jollity and spectacle. The moments when Plummer's face looms hugely out of the hallucinatory landscape are great: a reminder of the old Python magic. But the film's convoluted curlicues are tiring, insisting too loudly on how 'imaginative' everything is. And when it descends into the real world – Lucy out of the sky without diamonds, as it were – the film can frankly be a bit ho-hum, with some very broad acting from the bit-part crowd players."
"Parnassus" screened out of competition, and though it was certainly the most high-profile event of the day - the two competition entries - Gasper Noe's "Enter The Void" and Elia Suleiman's "The Time That Remains" - both managed to make some uncharacteristically loud noise for films screening so late in the festival.
"Comprised of continuous digital effects, psychedelic visuals, ambient electronic music, and saturated colors, 'Enter The Void' is a fascinating cinematic experience to take in on a big screen. For more than half of its two hours and forty minutes, it was among the most striking and compelling films I’ve seen in some time" wrote indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez following its premiere at Cannes.
Hernandez was also present at what appeared to be a rather wild press conference for the film. “What was it that Douglas Sirk said to Fassbender,” Noe told the questioner at the conference, “'To make a good melodrama you need, sperm, blood and tears.' These are in this film.”
Sperm, blood, tears, and all, Daniel Kasman (writing for the Auteurs Notebook), calls "Void" "the only avant-garde film in Cannes’ Competition" and describes it as "an experiment in visualization, of taking conventional ideas of focalization in dramatic cinema—what perspective a story is told from—which usually lurk quasi-invisibility under the surface of storytelling, and flips the emphasis on its head. Instead of seeing a story visualized, we see the visualization of a story."
The New York Times' Manohla Dargis praises the film mightily, calling it "an exceptional work, though less because of its story, acting or any of the usual critical markers. What largely distinguishes it, beyond the stunning cinematography, is that this is the work of an artist who's trying to show us something we haven't seen before, even while he liberally samples images and ideas from Stanley Kubrick and the entirety of American avant-garde cinema."
Echoing what the aforementioned reviewers have noted, Screen Daily's Mike Goodridge describes the film as "a wild, hallucinatory mindfuck for adults... More experience than narrative, it runs to a massive 163 minutes, meandering and careening in and out of story and into visual realms and moods that are nothing short of hypnotic. It is a film that will instantly achieve cult status among young adults."
While Eric Kohn, writing for Moving Pictures Magazine, goes as far as to say the film up's "Antichrist" controversial ante: "Beyond its unique construction, "Enter the Void" also functions as a dedicated provocation. With loads of graphic sex and even an onscreen abortion, the movie led many in its Cannes audiences to suggest that it ups Lars von Trier's "Antichrist" as the most controversial entry at the festival. Maybe, but it's the core idea of the production - death as the ultimate drug trip - that ought to take the spotlight."
And finally, Elia Suleiman's "The Time That Remains" might be a late breaking entry for some jury prizes, after screening today today to essentially unanimous praise.
"The Time that Remains" "edges out 'Vincere' as my favorite film in Competition this year" says the A.V. Club's Mike D'Angelo, who describes it as "a grim comedy structured as a series of deadpan blackout sketches."
"Deadpan" is also the word favored by Roger Ebert in describing the film. Writes Ebert: "One of the most unexpected successes here is 'The Time That Remains,' a deadpan Palestinian comedy written by, directed, and starring Elia Suleiman. Read that again: a deadpan Palestinian comedy... I was surprised by how it grew on me."
Variety's Derek Elley was also impressed: "The Never-ending Story between Arabs and Jews gets another wryly humorous workout, marbled with personal sadness and mystification, in "The Time That Remains," Palestinian Elia Suleiman's third leg of his long-in-the works trilogy on his people's place in the modern state of Israel. Inspired by his father's diaries, and the writer-helmer's own memories, vignettish pic is both more rigorously fashioned and a lighter sit than "Chronicle of a Disappearance" (1996) or "Divine Intervention" (2002), coming close at times to fringe theater, with Suleiman almost an outside observer."
"Told with brightly colored imagery, using static shots to frame the scenes, Suleiman’s compelling new work - received quite warmly with an extended applause at a press screening here - evokes that of Jacques Tati and Buster Keaton," noted indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez.
Rounding out the positive press and echoing the Keaton comparison is Howard Feinstein's review for Screen Daily. "A master stylist, Suleiman intersperses Keaton-style sight gags, tense scenes chronicling Israeli abuse, and intimate sequences of his family at home," writes Feinstein, who calls the film a "successful fusion of the political with the personal."
And while the "Void" and "Remains" await their fate with this weekend's Palme d'Or announcement, the concurrently running Director's Fortnight announced their winners in Cannes today. 20 year old Quebecois director Xavier Dolan’s “J’ai tue ma mere” (I Killed Your Mother) - which apparently had a massive standing ovation when it screened earlier this week - was the big winner, sweeping 3 of the 4 prizes (and all that it was eligible for), including the 7e Prix Regards Jeunes 2009, the Art Cinema Award, and the SACD Prize. It beat out high-profile US entries including Francis Ford Coppola’s “Tetro,” Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s “I Love You Philip Morris” and Lynn Shelton’s “Humpday.”
Check back with indieWIRE this weekend for coverage of the Cannes competition winners.
Be sure to check back here at indieWIRE for ongoing coverage of the Cannes Film Festival. You can also track any of the competition titles on indieWIRE's freshly launched Cannes film pages, which have now been updated in respect to the films that screened today.