Julian Schnabel split critical opinion as a painter & with BASQUIAT/’96, his debut film. But his second pic, BEFORE NIGHT FALLS/’00, earned well-deserved kudos. Now, he pushes his luck with his third film, again about an artist/writer who dies prematurely. It’s been rapturously received for the extravagant visual palette that uses subjective POV techniques to take us inside the mind of a man paralyzed by ‘locked-in’ syndrome. (He communicates by blinking his left eye.*) But overdosing on subjective POV, as Orson Welles discovered on his aborted HEART OF DARKNESS project, doesn’t so much take us inside a mind as inside a camera. And any tale of the literary triumph of a severely handicapped writer begs comparison to MY LEFT FOOT/’89 (MY LEFT EYE?), a parallel that favors neither this writer nor this film. (On the other hand, the French socialized medical system seen here looks fabulous!) Ultimately, the film’s engine is fueled with the same bludgeoning morbid sentimentality of bestsellers like THE LAST LECTURE or TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE, if that’s your bag. Still, Mathieu Amalric does himself proud as the writer, and Max Von Sydow, as his frail papa, goes him one better & does the film proud.
*SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The transcribing technique relies on reading off the alphabet until the right letter is said. BLINK! Wouldn’t it have been easier and far more efficient to teach the poor guy Morse Code?