Shelflife — Movie

First off, understand that Harmony Korine (Gummo) makes movies like you’ve never seen. Shot on digital video in adherence with Dogma 99 rules (a European movement meant to save film from “bourgeois romaticism” by eschewing artificial lighting, costumes and props, among other things), this gritty drama examines the life of schizophrenic Julien (a mesmerizing performance from Ewen Bremmer of Trainspotting fame), who works in a school for the blind when he’s not wandering the streets of Queens mumbling jumbled conversations to himself between Hitler and Jesus (for example) or getting his sister (played by Chloë Sevigny) pregnant. Cult director Werner Herzog plays Julien’s drunken father, who wears a gas mask and babbles on about birds.

Korine uses no shooting script and a highly untraditional narrative in this film, and it often feels like documentary (several improv-acted scenes are shot with unaware people in NYC, one in a Jersey Baptist church). Critics seem scared of the lo-fi Korine and say that he revels in handicapped characters (like some punk school Diane Arbus) or in disturbing audiences by alternating gritty realism with scenes of unusual beauty (slow-motion blind iceskaters dissolving in digital effects, etc). Famed filmmakers like Bernardo Bertolucci hail Korine as “starting a revolution in cinema,” while critics like Janet Maslin cry in their popcorn.

Korine based the Julien character on his committed uncle and admits he wanted a more realistic shizoid character than the usual Hollywood fare, someone with “blood in their underwear, jumping out of windows.” Much of his work is aimed at capturing unsightly truths in fiction, and his humor is oddball to say the least (one scene features a black albino from Alabama rapping freestyle to a punchdrunk Native American in a self-help circle). But just the fact that his grainy films are intensely different (especially with narrative) and offer authentically sublime cinematic moments (like the golden-haired Sveigny wandering a sunset-lit field) makes them worthwhile in my book. Plus Bremmer’s performance here is certainly worthy of high praise and recognition.

Special features on the DVD include a “making of” featurette called The Confession of Julien Donkey-Boy, theatrical trailers, filmographies, and two deleted scenes (one of Down Syndrome kids playing in an indoor pool and another street scene with Julien freaking out people).