Tuesday, October 23, 2007

[WES-Fest '07] The Darjeeling Limited review.

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Few directors working today are as much fun as Wes Anderson. I love the his unique blend of both the funny and the sad; his soundtrack selections and the way they are used in his films; but most importantly, I love the way his films look. If you were to take away the sound from Anderson's best movies, something that would hinder one's ability to enjoy both his verbally-driven comedy and cinematic mixed-tapes, the sublime beauty that Anderson's camera manages to conjure, even from the most mundane of locales, would be enough to keep me smiling throughout. The Darjeeling Limited is no exception.

And speaking of locales, most of Darjeeling is set in India. While Anderson has a knack for making gameroom closets or high school plays look like miniature oases, with the many colorful villages, shrines, and train cars of India, his newest movie turns into a sugar rush of visuals.

By now, you should know that Owen Wilson, Adriend Brody and Jason Schwartzman play brothers Francis, Peter and Jack as they take a train ride accross the Asian country one year after the death of their father. Francis (Wilson), the oldest of the trio, is the leader. Not only did he finance this rail-bound trek across India, but in many ways he seems the parent pro tempo re for his siblings after their father died and their mother went AWOL. There's a funny scene in a restaurant when Francis orders food for his brothers and Peter (Brody) protests. However, we soon find Francis orders their food not because he's telling them what they want, but rather, because he knows.

As for Peter and Jack, I have a strong feeling that I have seen both of these characters somewhere before. For starters, Peter both dresses and carries himself in a fashion similar to Wes Anderson. Like Anderson, Peter has two brothers, and he's also the character who kicks off the film. That the film pokes fun at the way an artist reappropriates real life into his or her work only strengthens my case.

I've said this before in my Hotel Chevalier review, but Jack gives us a good idea of who Max Fischer from Rushmore would be if he were allowed to grow up. A writer and manipulator of women, it seems that Max in the form of Jack is still setting up musical cues in order to snare his romantic conquests. Fortunately for Jack, that's much easier to do, given that he's packed a Bose iPod dock instead of the record players and tape decks that Max would use.

There are but two flaws in The Darjeeling Limited. The biggest one being the finale wherein the brothers symbolically cast aside the baggage of their dead father. For starters, the symbolism is much too obvious and, in a way, crude for a director known primarily for his subtlety, but also, the movie never explains what caused said baggage in the first place. As for the minor flaw, part of me wishes that the short film, Hotel Chevalier had been included with the movie. Chevalier features Schwartzman's Jack opposite his mysterious and unfaithful lover played by the never-more-stunning Natalie Portman. There are at least two jokes and one cameo that require viewing the short film first in order to understand. Alas, the decision not to include Hotel Chevalier with the theatrical prints for The Darjeeling Limited was made by the studio, and not Anderson, who at least had the common courtesy to give the short away for free on iTunes.

After 2004's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, I was worried Anderson was stuck as a director - that he had decided how the many traditions of his films were going to play out in all of his work, and that nothing was ever going to change. The Onion even released an article that mocked the director to that extent. Over the years, Anderson's traditions have made him recognizable as a filmmaker - or an 'auteur' - but they've also started to confine his cinematic vocabulary. Yes, I want my Anderson films to seem 'Andersonic' (as opposed to 'Michael Bayesque'), but I want that meaning to grow, and not grow stale.

With The Darjeeling Limited Anderson is clearly branching out and trying new visual approaches to storytelling. In particular, there's a wonderful meditation scene that pans across each character in the film's extended universe, including a ferocious stop-motion tiger that could represent Anderson gearing up to make his animated kids film, The Fantastic Mr. Fox. The movie might feature, "a plot centering around unresolved family issues," as was mentioned in The Onion, but I got the feeling those family issues are not as important for the characters as their journey this time around.

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