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Gianni Da Campo
The Nature of Nicholas is a surreal fable that follows twelve-year-old Nicholas as he struggles with an intense attraction to his best friend, Bobby. Nicholas is obsessed with his friend Bobby. Bobby's feelings are less clear. At times he seems to share Nicholas's fascination, but then appears more interested in making inroads with the girls at school. All this leaves young Nicholas very confused. When images of Nicholas's absent father start to appear to him, the boy is understandably frightened. This curious figure gives Nicholas the impression he is pressing his young son closer to the girls in his life and away from Bobby. This only leads to increased anxiety and fear in Nicholas. Fearing that Bobby is drifting away from him, Nicholas takes a chance and kisses him. Bobby is taken aback and storms out. Because of his shame, Bobby undergoes a type of 'splitting' where a decrepit, ghoulish version of him is separated from his healthy self. Nicholas is immediately drawn to this ... Written by
Quite near to being the greatest work of art I've seen in the film medium.
One of the users here complained about cardboard characters, which is absurd--would you complain that the characters in a ballet or a symphony are too simple? This film flows like only the greatest works of art do, and its characters serve as part of the complex texture and intent of the film as a whole, rather than being "creations in themselves" (this is a surreal and stylized film, and its also one of the few genuine mythic works that has been brought to the screen--the characters are exactly as they need to be to pull this off, and to pull of the thematic intent of the film). Each performance is also breathtaking in its ability to capture the awkwardness of the moment--an essential feature of reality that few movies achieve; this is particularly important to the period of adolescence that this film captures (and does so better than anything I've seen); the awkwardness of sexual awakening is a painful and mythic thing, and this film has insight to offer on the true nature of that time in our lives, a time that it is difficult to perceive or remember objectively (and certainly difficult to express--nearly impossible i would say, if I hadn't seen this film with my own eyes!). This film is indeed a surreal and mythic expression of the "true nature" of that time. Some have focused on the homosexual element, but I think in the film it only served to highlight the transgressive sense of one's first sexual feelings (which is also expressed by the decay and monster metaphors that crop up), and on the idea that we are sexually connected to everyone, be it our best friends or mothers (which is something we eventually move beyond in order to grow up); this film was definitely not trying to make a *point* out of the gay element--it was just there naturally, and as a part of the confused friendship of the two boys, both discovering and fearing their sexuality (whether it is a straight or gay sexuality--it is almost irrelevant).
Regarding the sense of the awkward silence and the uncertain space between people who have trouble relating, the filmaker is clearly influenced by the rest of Canadian cinema (which has always had a particularly realistic sense of people interactions), and specifically by David Cronenberg (in more ways than one!)... and yet he has already transcended his influences to arrive at a completely new and higher style (despite the fact that this is his first film!). Cronenberg has never achieved anything quite so pure in intent or as mythic in story (some have called this a fable), or as "perfectly constructed" in structure and execution (in terms of the pacing of the acting, perfectly framed shots, and the sense that every tiny element of the film is chosen so to expresses the film's central ideas--it is a powerfully coherent work, in a way that most film is scattered and messy, usually without being aware of its own clumsiness). A final point about this awkward space between people--the film takes it to a stylized extreme that is a delight to watch (there is no doubt the film is one of the most stylized things i've seen--which is a GOOD thing, of course, and makes for fascinating performances--but in doing so it actually captures the emotional reality of what it depicts better than any "realistic" portrayal could have--in this way it is similar to a surprising television show called "Buffy the vampire slayer"). There is this incredible pacing in the awkward silences, dialogue withholding about as long as it possibly could, but then breaking the tension at the exact moment where it feels like it should; this is where the film flows like music, as all great films should--you can feel and almost see the tension flowing through the scenes; it made me smile through almost the entire movie, how well they captured the difficulting in reaching out to other people, to very degrees and for various reasons (the awkwardness that exists between the main character and the other characters has a different flavour in each case, and a different cause--his awkwardness with his best friend is the most fascinating, of course, and the most human, since his best friend is the only person, other than his dead father, that could hope to understand him--and yet he fears he may not be able to relate to his friend after all).
A final point about the characters--the only character that needs to be truly fleshed out, in order for this work of art to capture what it intends to, is the young boy, for this is HIS world, and his mind that we enter (his mother and most other characters are of course frighteningly distant from what this young boy is going through, and are thus acted that way--the side performances are brilliantly formal, I might say, again thinking of the ballet or music analogy, to think of the perfection of choreography in the gestures and tones of voice, especially on the part of the mother). And the young boy is indeed fleshed out! I have never seen so sensitive and delicate a performance (or so sensitive a film as a whole, for that matter); this young actor easily replaces Haley Joel Osmand, in my books, as the best child actor who has ever been (though of course we must see if he can pull this off consistently).
Much more can be said, but I must stop for now. But one final comment--this is the sort of film that creates a whole other universe of reality, completely consistent unto itself, right down to the impressive art design of the furniture, the colour schemes, the glowing cinematography. The place it takes you to is completely unique, and is quite far outside the look and feel of any style or genre we are familiar with; this is a new place, my friends--the world has found a rare new filmaker who does not simply re-arrange the old, or flash fancy tricks at us--this is filmaker with old world mastery combined with a completely fresh vision.
Note: As a comparison, here are my other top 10 films of 2002: Atanarjuat (aka "The Fast Runner"), Heaven (by Tykwer + Kieslowski), Full Frontal (Steven Soderbergh), Happy Times (Zhang Yimou), Thirteen Conversations About One Thing, Ararat, Road to Perdition, Human Nature, and *possibly* The Hours. NONE of those films has the extreme sensitivity or "perfect" sense of flow that Nicholas achieves (which doesn't *necessarily* make it better, but it's one of many reasons why it is at the top of my list).
My list of the best works of 2001 included: Yi Yi ("one and two"), In the Mood for Love, Waking Life, Memento, Mulholland Drive, The Man Who Wasn't There, and Amores Perros. "Nicholas" is on the same level as the best of these (when films get to that level, I don't like rating them against eachother, so I'll restrict myself to saying that it's "on the same level"). 10 / 10
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