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Overall Rating

Awesome: 6.67%
Worth A Look: 40%
Just Average: 6.67%
Pretty Crappy46.67%
Sucks: 0%

2 reviews, 3 user ratings

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by Jack Sommersby

"An Arid-Pretentious Bore"
2 stars

If you've a liking for films by directors who think the mere attempt at art is to automatically achieve it ("Memento", anyone?), than this bore-fest should be right up your alley.

At the onset of Carlos Reygadas' Japon, a nighttime view of congested Mexico City highway traffic fills the screen, and it pretty much gets across what's intended: that it's something most people would rather avoid. We're then transported to the desolate Sierra Tarahumara Canyon, where our Protagonist With No Name (played by Alejandro Ferretis), whom we learn has come from the city, walks with a cane, exchanges mild pleasantries with a man and his son before telling them of his intention to commit suicide, and proceeds with them to the bottom of the canyon to a pueblo, where he takes up a room in a barn on a property owned by a religious, eighty-year-old woman, Ascen (Magdalena Flores). In between various attempts by the woman to be cordial, the man, while not necessarily rude, makes clear his wish to be left by his lonesome. He masturbates in his narrow bed, fiddles with his gun, and silently contemplates for hours on end -- and debuting writer/director Reygadas' storytelling style indulges him every step of the way, with long, long, long unbroken takes in 16mm widescreen that bring to mind Wim Wender's similar photographing-nothingness-as-art style during the opening passages of 1984's Paris, Texas (which at least moved on to animate-human territory later on down the line). The central character doesn't feel or long for anything, and we're meant to see the deliberate pacing and non-kinetic camerawork as serving a distinct, valid artistic function in its mirroring of the man's emotional (or lack thereof) state. Because nothing is really happening on-screen is, in the filmmaker's eyes, more than reason enough to infer that much is in fact happening (beneath the surface, that is) and we, the viewers, are left to our own perceptions and imaginations to fill in the blanks, to make our own interpretation of the goings-on (or lack thereof), to take on a participative role and, in a sense, make our own film out of it while we're watching. In essence, it's our own damn fault if we can't think up something good out of the thing during its one-hundred-and-thirty-minute entirety, don't you know.

In case you haven't surmised by now, Japon is one of those intentionally-vague, amorphous art-house films that seems quaint yet clamors in your collective consciousness with such obsequious, forced self-indulgence that its intentions are actually more obstinately presented than if every character and happenstance were affixed and labeled with a neon sign. Its blatant intent to wow you with supposed nothingness sounds throughout your head with the subtlety of a smoke alarm -- the less it's doing, the more it actually is. In a way, it's got its own built-in critical defense: if you're not "getting" it, then you're not projecting enough into it, naturally. The protagonist is no one in particular, just an exceedingly weary Everyman representing anyone who's felt truly dilapidated by the rigors of life; he's a blank we're left to color in the details to, and Ferretis' unresponsive, uninteresting performance offers nothing for us to key off of -- he's neither talented nor imaginative enough to expressively convey inexpressiveness. And this mushrooms into a severe liability in the film's second half, when we're supposed to be witnessing this man's raw nature awaken at his sudden lusting after his geriatric landlady, whom he gently invites into his bed -- she accepts, thus allowing for both Ferretis and Flores to venture into full-frontal mode, but it comes off less as a scene of two desperate souls crying out for affection than a filmmaker trying to shock us with the the mere pretense of rawness (you know, pure and unadulterated life without the shades pulled down). In a further attempt to confound us, Reygadas trots out a tired subplot of Ascen's cretin of a nephew's greedy scheme to take apart his aunt's historic home stone brick by stone brick to sell off, and all so we can be brought up short when the Ferretis character refuses to intercede in a High Noon antagonistic fashion (where, again, his doing nothing is intended to be meaningful of a whole heck of a lot). Rarely have I seen a filmmaker go so far out of their way to avoid familiarities yet refuse to replace them with anything viable; to Reygadas, the mere shunning of familiarities is automatically worthy of acclaim, and no matter the level of vapidity the audience is left to impatiently gander at, we're at least watching something "original," right?

To be fair, Japon is interesting for about half an hour simply because the anticipation of where it's going holds you. As do the long, unbroken 2.35:1 aspect-ratio pans across flat, seemingly-impassable landscapes, which manage to suggest one being inescapable from their suffering inner self. There's absolutely nothing wrong here that, say, a total forty-five-minute running time couldn't conceivably support. Yet Reygadas has got a serious case of what I call "the artsies": the misguided assumption that dressing something up purely in visual artifice is substantial enough to put a feature-length motion picture over. Maybe if the film weren't so concentrated upon its lead character, if it were throwing out different visual strategies while not taking itself a twentieth as seriously an enjoyably bad film could have resulted. But Reygadas is too heavy-handed and literal-minded to appease even on this lenient level. He throws in an explicit horse-mating scene just so we can presumably admire him for having the audacity to show it; and then he showcases a goes-on-forever scene of a drunken laborer singing a lousy song in a lousy manner. The only reason you're not not likely to laugh yourself silly at all this zenith-level pretentiousness is that you'll probably be too bored and just plain frustrated to muster up the energy for a response that doesn't equate with the burning-the-barn vengefulness your gut tells you the film is truly deserving of. In Alan Wade's underrated 1997 dark comedy Julian Po, Christain Slater starred as a drifter who happened into a small upstate New York town and inadvertently announced to everyone that he was there to commit suicide; rather than dishing out don't-do-it lectures, the townspeople responded by affording him unasked-for niceties (like free meals and lodging and belongings), and when the drifter changed his mind after a week, rather than thank-goodness responses, the people sternly reminded him that, in light of all the first-class treatment, he had an obligation to see through what he had averred earlier, didn't he? Where Wade was brave and imaginative enough to make a sick joke out of suicide yet make his tale pulsate with life, Reygadas embraces it for all its sullen-solemn possibilities and smothers us to death in the process. Boo-rah.

Could put an adrenaline-charged meth junkie to sleep, I swear.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=7232&reviewer=327
originally posted: 04/29/05 17:22:56
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/02/08 Shaun Wallner Yawn!!! 2 stars
11/06/05 Ginzo Ginzo 3 stars
10/10/05 Christine Excellent. 5 stars
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  19-Mar-2003 (NR)
  DVD: 12-Oct-2004



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