In Paris, a young American who works as a Michael Jackson lookalike meets Marilyn Monroe, who invites him to her commune in Scotland, where she lives with Charlie Chaplin and her daughter, Shirley Temple.
A series of hazy 8mm vignettes, accompanied by a soft, lilting voice over, in which girls skulk around schoolyards, spray graffiti, drink, smoke, pose and embrace, evoking the loneliness, confusion and overwhelming wonder of growing up.
"O, mio babbino caro" plays as a woman skates gracefully. In contrast, little is graceful and daddy is not dear in Julien's world. His father listens to blues wearing a gas mask; dad prods, lectures, and derides Julien as well as Julien's brother and pregnant sister, while grandma attends to her dog. Julien is different, schizophrenic. He wears gold teeth. He bowls, sings, worships, and chats with a group of young adults with disabilities. His sister's child is probably his own. He talks on the phone, imagining it's his mother, who died in childbirth years before. He may be a murderer of children. From his point of view (perhaps), the film follows this odd family for a few weeks.Written by
There is a line that separates two types of independent art-house films often misconstrued as one. One side of the line is populated by films that are inventive and disturbingly stimulating of emotions, usually a completely nude display of unpleasant things and people. The other side is comprised of films that are shocking, repulsive, and generally don't move forward with their stories, instead shuffling sustained sequences where virtually nothing changes, shapelessly finding its way to the end of the movie. julien donkey-boy could either be lying perfectly upon this line between both types of films, or it could be the latter type. Usually, the latter type can be very basically and degradingly entertaining, voyeuristically tempting you to continue watching its stylistic repugnance.
A bigger part of me likes julien donkey-boy. A smaller part of me doesn't. The part of me that likes it is fond of the gritty, demented use of the camera. The film's setting, a trashy, lower middle class environment full of generally unhealthy and unattractive people, is appropriate for Anthony Dod Mantle's bleak, very very grainy and unglamorous lens. Upon reflection, I realize that the film was really trying to say something, but the part of me that doesn't like it tells me that it's too immediately unclear and abstract to be fully understood.
The film's unabashed, possibly record-setting weirdness could be neither a plus or minus, and rather something meant to challenge the viewer, to make us reflect on the judgmental perspective that keeps many from understanding films like these and characters like those that are in it. So I suppose the verdict is that it's a good movie, but for a rare and acquired taste.
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