Monday, January 29, 2007

John Boorman's THE TIGER'S TAIL - Best Doppelganger Picture Since... Well, DOPPELGANGER

If you can afford it, the annual American Film Market in Santa Monica every November is something of a film fanatic’s dream. Imagine this scenario: Every movie theater on Santa Monica’s famed promenade is closed off to the general public for seven days straight (evening shows only), open only to film buyers from all over the world in town to screen as many new unsold films as they can (before segueing over to the Loews hotel to close the deal). Since the market is now later in the year (it was in February for over twenty years until 2004) the films include a mix of films that have played Toronto, Venice, Telluride, Cannes, and other major festivals but have yet to sell or hit theaters. It’s an extremely pricey affair (a full festival pass cost $775), but if you can get work to flip the bill :) it’s always a fun time, not just because of the wealth of films screened but because unlike those pesky film festivals, those screenings are sparsely attended, meaning that you not only get to see many of the hot new films before anyone else, but you get to see them with excellent projection and in perfect peace and quiet.

In the past I’ve been able to go to AFM (as it’s known as) to mainly see films, but this year I had a lot more work to do in the Loews, so screenings took a backseat to meetings, but of course I was going to make some time for films and with a very good slate to pick through this year I had to make some sacrifices (Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s RETRIBUTION had to wait until next month's Film Comment Selects series at Lincoln Center), but one of the films that I made sure I wasn't going to dare miss was the new film from one of my absolute favorite filmmakers, John Boorman, THE TIGER’S TAIL. Screening at the AFM before opening in Ireland, THE TIGER’S TAIL came only with one semi-major festival screening before it (it was the opening night film at San Sebastian) and I couldn’t help but wonder why that was. I’m sure it must have been submitted to Toronto, Venice, and New York, so why didn’t it show there? I’m the first to acknowledge Boorman has had some duds (although I do not count ZARDOZ or EXORCIST II among them) but I wanted to hope against mounting evidence to the contrary that THE TIGER’S TAIL would satisfy the most important viewer I know of, the one and only me. And thankfully, it certainly did.

I walked into the film knowing only that it was set in contemporary Ireland and starred Boorman regular Brendan Gleeson and Kim Catrall, so I was ready to let the film whisk me off to wherever it wanted to go and from the opening scene, a marvelous sequence set in a prolonged traffic jam, THE TIGER’S TAIL became a series of both unexpected and predictable delights. I suppose it’s not giving away too much that THE TIGER’S TAIL is a doppelganger story (not unlike Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s brilliant DOPPELGANGER from 2003. Are Boorman and Kurosawa doppelgangers?), and with that must come certain conventions that the film does submit to. But they’re there to serve Boorman’s story and like the expert storyteller he is you don’t feel like you’re watching the same old material warmed over. The real doppelgangers in THE TIGER’S TAIL are the two Irelands that have emerged over the last decade, the division between the rich and poor have grown wider there than ever before (just like here). Boorman’s films have always been about man’s relationship to his environment and THE TIGER’S TAIL fits perfectly into this, as it is a film about Boorman’s adopted home country of Ireland in 2006 and how this country has begun to change for the worse and, like the film’s lead character, is losing its identity. As I said to some friends after the film, this is a very Irish movie, but you certainly don’t have to be Irish to get it and like it and I’m sure anyone looking for intelligent, adult entertainment will find it to be more than satisfactory. Gleeson (now on his fourth collaboration with Boorman) gives a pair of superb performances and though Catrall struggles with her accent throughout, she still does fine work as Glesson’s wife, as does Ciarán Hinds (who also appeared in Boorman’s EXCALIBUR) as Gleeson’s priestly confidant. But what I liked the most about it was that this was a John Boorman film through and through and as a fan it’s really nice to see one of your favorites come through once again. It’s not HOPE & GLORY or EXCALIBUR, but it sure as hell isn’t WHERE THE HEART IS, either. As far as I know no one has picked up the film for the U.S. yet and I’m hoping someone like Sony Pictures Classics or Picturehouse comes along to at least give it a chance before it hits DVD because it deserves a shot at finding an audience. After all, this Boorman fan flew across country to attend a 9am Saturday screening, so I’m sure the rest of us will follow suit. At least I hope they will.

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