Directed by Gus Van Sant
Written by Jason Lew
Starring Henry Hopper, Mia Wasikowska
Music by Danny Elfman
United Stated, United Kingdom, 2011, 91’
Van Sant takes a break from his usual style and themes, such as marginalized individuals, social alienation, exclusion and violence, told with rough, plain realism, and turns to the romantic drama, dealing with an enchanted dream love between two young people who find a soul mate in each other.
Enoch is a problematic solitary young man whose favourite activity is attending funerals of unknown people. That’s how one day he meets Annabel, a strange girl in masculine clothes who immediately catches his attention. A sort of connection develops between the two and inch by inch they come closer. Enoch introduces her to his dead parents on their grave and to his invisible friend, the ghost of a Second World War Japanese kamikaze, and Annabel reveals him to be suffering from cancer. He offers to help her cope with her disease and with the shadow of death, she accepts.
Themes of the plot are nothing new – a dying young girl who bravely confronts her destiny, troubled youth who come to terms with their problems and traumas thanks to the power of love, the liveliness and joy of a spontaneous, genuine feeling fed by the delight of small, simple things – something between romance-drama A walk to remember and the more recent 500 days of Summer. However Van Sant succeeds to refresh these quite hackneyed motives by a carefully prepared photography and set design, often loaded with symbolic value, and by humorous, witty undertones.
The story takes place during autumn, the season in which life fades away and nature prepares to sleep. This is not a casual choice, as the story deals with approaching death and getting ready to face doom. Warm colours of autumnal season dominate the tones of the film, at least in the first part of the movie; as winter approaches, they are gradually replaced by cold colours, particularly white. Warm colours (such as red leaves lying on the ground, golden light of the sun, even certain costumes and interior) also symbolise the flame of love that bursts between the two.
The film stands out for a strong visual expressivity, which compensates certain predictable lines and situations (“Is she pretty?” “She’s beautiful”) and the long-windedness of dialogues. See for example the opening scene: Enoch is lying on the ground and with a chalk he’s sketching his silhouette on the cement around him. When the protagonists begin to fall in love, the silhouette of Annabel is added next to his shape. At the end of the movie, we see the two empty silhouettes being faded away by the winter wind.
Apart from that, dialogues prevail in the film: as soon as the two begin to know each other, they break their previous silence and talk, talk, talk. One of the favourite talking subjects of Annabel is nature, particularly birds and the law of natural selection, which especially amazes her: in fact in the end natural selection will be one of the driving forces that operate in this movie. The film recovers when finally all the talking makes room again to silence and to expressions.
Acting here is much less realistic and impressive than in other Van Sant’s works, like Elephant: the actors restrict themselves to a traditional performance, where they don’t have real liberty of improvisation (on the contrary of what happened in Elephant) and they just play their lines for quite an affected and banal result.
by Elisa Martellini