Venice 09: Mr Nobody
Posted on Saturday September 12, 2009, 12:22 by Damon Wise
Two days have gone by since I saw Jaco Van Dormael's Mr Nobody, and I still don't quite know what to make of it. It's a sort-of-sci-fi European romance in which Sliding Doors meets The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, with a hefty dose of The Matrix thrown in at the end. On the one hand, it's a bit of a mess, because it's just so complex and busy, but, on the other hand, it does have a strange sort of poetry. The nominal star is Jared Leto, but he's only really in a third of it. He plays a character called Nemo Nobody, and at the start of the film Nemo is dying. He's the last mortal on earth and, aged 128, is waiting to die, but while he's on his deathbed he is approached by a journalist (Daniel Mays), who wants to know his life story. Nemo tells him, but the story contradicts itself in every possible way: he married this woman, he married that woman, he didn't marry that woman, etc, etc. All we know for certain is that when he was a little boy, Nemo had a choice to make: his parents were separating, and would he stay with his father or leave with his mother?
The film that follows is dazzling; frequently baffling, sometimes funny but always intriguing. I sat in an aisle seat near the back so I could leave if it was rubbish (the current running time is about 2hrs 15), but even though I often couldn't make head or tail of it, I did want to see how it ended. The downside is Leto, who has always bemused me. He looks like a startled Barbie doll, and, ultimately, the multiple roles require a little more subtlety than he's perhaps capable of. Luckily, he's not in it all the way through, and newcomer Toby Regbo is a very good find as the teenage Nemo. His sections of the film really drew me in, with Nemo making certain life choices that will radically affect his future: staying with his father, who contracts MS, means he will become involved with the depressive Elise (Sarah Polley); leaving for Canada with his mother means he will fall for Anna (Diane Kruger), the daughter of his mother's lover.
If it sounds complicated, it really is, but Van Dormael does a pretty good job of creating a surprisingly follow-able kind of narrative logic. But the film's incredible ambition largely works against it, and by being so very clever, it raises lots of questions that it never answers (the final twist is a bit of a cheat in that respect). It's an interesting ride, however, and I do think it will find an audience simply because it is a bit of a mess (which, let's face it, never did Donnie Darko any harm). It's a cult movie in the truest sense of the word, since it's clearly very personal, and if, for any reason, it doesn't get a theatrical release in the UK, word of mouth will see it through on DVD.