I’m Not There

December 26th, 2007 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

I’m Not There is a lot like P T Anderson’s 1998 Magnum Opus Magnolia. It’s extremely high quality cinema in a stylistic and technical sense. Every detail from the old west of Billy the Kid (Gere) to Cate Blanchett’s channelling of 60s Dylan in drainpipe trousers and tousled mop top is faultless.

But like Magnolia, I’m Not There is much less a story than a piece of art. You might appreciate its beauty, you might understand the snippets of Dylan you see in it if you’re a long time fan, and you might be moved with a feeling you’re watching a small slice of cinematic history happening.

But I’m Not There keeps whatever story it’s trying to tell you far from your gaze, and there’s an equal chance you’ll be frustrated beyond belief at the lack of a cohesive narrative and quite simply bored out of your brain as you feel minutes slowly drain out of your life.

Xpress isn’t going to say whether it was the former or the latter for us, because to be truthful, both responses can co-exist, and how much you get from I’m Not There will depend on what you expect.

Much like David Lynch’s latest and most inaccessible film Inland Empire, I’m Not There is experimental cinema at its most extreme, with little to say and everything to show instead.

The style suits the subject. As Dylan is a difficult figure to sum up in a 90-minute film, writer/director Todd Haynes has instead zeroed in on different aspects of the Dylan myth (over 150 minutes), from a life riding south-eastern cargo trains 1930s style with homeless men to the outlaw trying to fade into the background of a Wild West Town. Blanchett plays the most recognisable Dylan, but there’s also Christian Bale as the Greenwich Village folk rock hero Dylan and Heath Ledger as a film actor settling down before his time Dylan.

Little of it makes sense or is related to other parts of the movie. Each ‘segment’ is told with a different cinematic language and the dialogue that makes most of it up is heavy with incomprehensible subtext much of the time.

It’s a world away from other musical icon biopics like Ray and Dreamgirls, and it’s just the way Dylan himself apparently wanted, being the only film about his life he’s ever agreed to.

But where Dylan, Haynes and actors who’ll lap up the credibility and dramatic kudos probably think it’s the greatest thing to hit screens since The 400 Blows or 8 1/2, most of us will be scratching our heads wondering what sort of brilliance we’ve just experienced.

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