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I just came back from one of the Berlinale-Screenings of "Big River", and I must admit the 104 minutes seemed a bit long. The story, if one can call it that, is that of a young Japanese tourist, Teppei (Joe Odagiri), a middle-aged Pakistani, Ali (Kavi Raz) and an American girl, Sarah (Chloe Snyder) who meet by chance in the middle of the Arizona desert. Teppei is backpacking, Ali is trying to get his wife back (who has apparently left him for an American) and Sarah just doesn't seem to have anything better to do, so they drive around, hang out and... smoke, most of the time.
The whole thing is fairly reminiscent of Jarmusch's "Stranger than Paradise", not least because of the constellation of characters, the constant boredom and the smoking; the main difference being that Atahashi and his co-author and cameraman Eric van den Brulle opt for wide-angle lenses throughout the film and splendid colour (in contrast to Jarmusch's more sober b/w) to convey a sense of the magnificent scenery - although it does, weirdly, change to a sepia-tinted b/w for a short time. The cinematography - apart from Chloe Snyder, who lightens up the screen - is the one very strong point in the film; at times, an image is so beautiful one wishes it would hold still for some time - e.g. the flashing neon-arrow reflecting in a puddle, before the car drives through. Eric van den Brullen did an excellent job here, especially considering the fact that he had never used 35mm cinema-scope before (according to his own statement).
Unfortunately, neither the cinematography nor Ms. Snyder's beauty and natural charm can make up for the lack of story or meaning. Mr. Funahashi said he wanted to make a film about the prejudices people from different cultures have when they first meet, and how they finally get along well when they get to know each other. He does get this across, but the problem is that we don't really learn a lot about these people, let alone their cultures. In fact, the film itself doesn't go much further than the stereotypes, especially in its depiction of Americans (the aggressive policeman, Sarah's drunken grandfather who lives in a trailer, the "cowboys" in a pub) and of Ali, who seems to think that he owns his wife and is unable to see his own mistakes in their failed marriage.
On the big screen, I think this movie is still very worth seeing; in case you find yourself getting a bit bored during the dialogue scenes, do as the characters do on screen - have a smoke.
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