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1 item from 1999

Film review: 'Julien Donkey-Boy' Difficult but Deep 'Julien' / Writer-director Korine again focuses on the bleak and dispossesed but adds extra emotion

5 October 1999 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

VENICE, ITALY -- The ultimate in acquired tastes, the films of 22-year-old Harmony Korine veer between the unwatchable and the strangely hypnotic. His second feature, "Julien Donkey-Boy", shot on digital video under the aesthetic creed of Danish film collective Dogme 95, brackets the formal experimentation of his notorious first feature, "Gummo", with a greater emotional force and depth of feeling.

This is difficult material, but Korine is genuinely talented -- an intuitive, innate artist with a strong command for the language of cinema.

The film is not, as some of its champions are breathlessly heralding it, a masterpiece, but it is a fascinating experiment in essentially nonlinear filmmaking and a bracing alternative to the increasingly compromised American independent cinema. Fine Line Features, which gave only a perfunctory release to "Gummo", is releasing the film as part of its deal with Cary Woods' Independent Pictures.

Let the buyer and viewer be aware: "Julien" goes even further than the Korine-scripted "Kids" or "Gummo" in conjuring up images of the bleak and dispossessed, but there is a tenderness for most of its characters.

The film works much better as a succession of free-form, associative images than any kind of sustained story. Its theme is schizophrenia, and the bleary, grainy images are the logical visual corollary of that unexplained condition. Korine and his technical collaborators, including cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (who photographed Thomas Vinterberg's Dogme film "Celebration"), shot the film on digital video, transferred the image to 8mm, printed it on highly unstable reversible stock and then blew up the image to 35mm. The effect is impressive -- the detailing and contour of the image is lost, but there is an immediacy and frenzy that has a dreamlike texture.

It opens with a scene of shocking, unmotivated violence, as the title character, Julien (Ewen Bremner), who works as an attendant at a school for the blind, commits a random, horrifying act against a young boy. The story shifts to his bizarre, utterly nonconventional family: a loopy, abusive father (New German Cinema icon Werner Herzog), Julien's pregnant sister Pearl (Chloe Sevigny) and his sports-obsessed brother Chris (Evan Neumann).

Like "Gummo", "Julien" is an ambitious, innovative melange of forms: collage, reportage and stills mixed with open, unscripted sequences. The best parts of the film are the free-form, documentary-like examination of marginalized, dispossessed people.

Korine is less condescending than he was in "Gummo", finding a beautiful empathy with a man born without arms who is seen performing card tricks and playing the drums. Rather than employ these characters for their shock value, Korine finds their common humanity.

Another high point to the film is a joyous black Baptist church performance in Harlem that is electric. All of this corresponds to Julien's need to absolve himself of the horrifying act from the opening. The film ends with the most emotionally honest representation in Korine's small body of work -- an act of decency, honesty and hope.


Independent Pictures

in conjunction with Forensic Films

A Harmony Korine film

Credits: Producers:Cary Woods, Scott Macaulay, Robin O'Hara; Director-screenwriter:Harmony Korine; Director of photography:Anthony Dod Mantle; Editor:Valdis Oskarsdottir; Sound recordist:Brian Miksis. Cast: Julien:Ewen Bremner; Father:Werner Herzog; Pearl:Chloe Sevigny; Chris:Evan Neumann. No MPAA rating. Color/stereo. Running time -- 94 minutes.


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