‘Parnassus’ causes much head-scratching at Cannes

Posted by · 9:28 am · May 22nd, 2009

Heath Ledger in The Imaginarium of Doctor ParnassusIt was always a safe bet that, in spite of the curiosity value of Heath Ledger’s final screen performance, Terry Gilliam’s “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” wasn’t cut out to be a crowdpleaser. It’s been over a decade since the defiantly eccentric filmmaker made anything approaching the term “accessible,” much less something widely liked. And the apparent opacity of his latest, beginning with that unwieldy title, didn’t suggest he was going any easier on his audience, or himself.

So it’s no surprise to report that the reviews thus far are mixed at best, with some vocal detractors already apparent. (Catherine Shoard at the Guardian describes it as “a horrible mix of reheated Munchhausen and stale Faustian mumbo-jumbo.) Still, several critics have salvaged some value from the project, and are unexpectedly supportive in their reviews.

Todd McCarthy asserts that Gilliam has made “a pretty good thing out of a very bad situation,” commending him for his “visual panache” and “considerable discipline,” but is careful to defuse any exaggerated expectations of Ledger’s work:

It’s another “Alice in Wonderland”-like playground for Gilliam, and while all the specific action may not be entirely coherent or exciting, it’s always visually stimulating and allows the three incarnations of Tony to host assorted guests.

Tony is not a demanding dramatic role, nor a particularly flamboyant one like the Joker, so this can’t legitimately be described as one Ledger’s most striking performances. Like most of the other actors here, he’s antic and frantic, dirty and sweaty, as the principals flail around trying to cope with their desperate straits.

ScreenDaily’s Allan Hunter also finds gold amid the murk, though he warns that it is unlikely to convert non-aficionados of Gilliam’s work:

This is the purest expression of Gilliam’s distinctive sensibility in a long while, complete with outbursts of Pythonesque humour, entrancing dream landscapes, strange creatures, a dapper devil and a wise midget. It is an incredibly rich stew of a film and an often wilfully eccentric proposition for a mainstream audience.

Ledger’s final performance once again underlines his considerable screen presence and winning way with comedy but the film’s best turn comes from a dazzling Andrew Garfield as Anton … he captures all the eagerness and wounded pride of his character in a totally delightful performance.

I’m pleased, and not at all surprised, to hear such good word for Garfield, who is surely one of the most exciting young actors in the business right now.

Otherwise, Gilliam may have baldly stated his awards hopes for this film, but beyond the possibility of technical accolades, the reviews don’t offer much to back up his bluster.

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4 responses so far

  • 1 5-22-2009 at 9:43 am

    drbenway said...

    “the reviews don’t offer much to back up his bluster.”

    That’s because he’s a bitter old windbag. Though I kind of like the guy, in a way.

  • 2 5-22-2009 at 10:24 am

    BobMcBob said...

    Guy Lodge, why are you such a homer for the British?

  • 3 5-22-2009 at 11:18 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Don’t think I am, really. I cover quite a bit of British material because I have more access to it.

    If you’re referring to my praise for Garfield, it’s not like only the Brits are buzzing about him.

  • 4 5-22-2009 at 9:17 pm

    Matthew said...

    I’ve only seen Garfield in “Boy A”, and he was absolutely phenomenal in that. I’m extremely excited to see his performances in the Red Riding trilogy. Hopefully I’ll see it sometime in Canada.