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Alledged wayward adolescent Louisiana gentleman Michael 'Mike' Blueberry is dumped by his family with a Wild West uncle. The brute's only 'motivation' is a stick. After a nearly fatal encounter in the brothel with Wallace 'Wally' Sebastian Blount, Mike is left for dead in the desert. A Chiricuahua (Apache) medicine man's family finds, nurses and initiates him. After the shaman's death, Mike returns and becomes the town's honest 'deputy' marshal. Gold fever strikes, with staged Indian brutalities to allow rivaling fiends to invade their sacred mountains. Written by
Jan Kounen's latest effort is an existentialist western with opulent visuals, threadbare characterization and a shamanistic undercurrent. It is really unique, but it really isn't brilliant in its uniqueness. The only film that it vaguely reminds me of is EL TOPO, but taken in full, it's still quite different from anything that's out there.
It's a yarn that is suffering an identity crisis - it really doesn't know what it wants to be, and no one element of it wins out in the end. It will not appeal to most western genre fans because even though it has the trappings (and cliches) of a western, it doesn't follow through with them and the characters are too one-note to be likeable or dislikeable. It fails as a revealing exploration of shamanism because it doesn't give the uninitiated any background.
BLUEBERRY has a great cast, but for the most part they're wasted (no pun intended - Tcheky Karyo, in particular) and some of the casting seems gimmicky, especially that of Ernest Borgnine. Even Cassel, who is usually compelling and tries hard, fails to engage. Juliette Lewis does hold interest in a sexy turn as the spirited girl (favorite line - after hitting the weasely character Prosit who stumbles into the saloon, interrupting her rendition of a folk tune, she blurts out "You ruined my song!") in love with the protagonist, and there are some nice full-frontal shots of her in the nude underwater towards the end - one of the film's assets.
Kounen seems to have made a conscious effort to make something really different from his previous film, the brilliantly over-the-top DOBERMANN, and he has succeeded, but the film itself is somewhat disappointing. It has its moments, though. Some sequences are very strong visual storytelling. And I'm sure some people will be annoyed by it, but I actually enjoyed the ponderous pace of the film.
The film is in English and a rare Native American language, with a light sprinkling of French. Subtitling on the non-English parts (there are some fairly extended sequences in the Native American language) would've really helped, I think. Some of the CGI visuals in the peyote trip sequences are beautiful and genuinely disturbing. In general, the parts where Blueberry is among the tribe are the most intriguing and seem to belong in a different film.
Perhaps this one gets better on a second viewing, or after a few hits on some psychotropic substances...
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