Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tideland (Terry Gilliam, 2006)

Maybe reading so many negative reactions to this film before seeing it resulted in adjusted expectations that made me more open to enjoying the movie, but I really believe this is a much better film than it is getting credit for being. Granted, it's not one of Gilliam's best films, but it fits nicely into his body of work, and it's certainly preferable to the mess he produced doing hack work on The Bros. Grimm (even it's detractors seem to agree with that).

Gilliam's film covers very similar territory to Pan's Labyrinth. Like that film, it's the story of a young girl in a dirstressing situation using fantasy to process what she sees, and like that film, it employs existing fantasy tropes (primarily from Alice in Wonderland). Even the images for the posters seem similar (well, kind--girl in dress, old tree).

But unlike Ofelia in Pan's Labyrinth, the protagonist, Jeliza Rose, isn't seeking an alternate reality to the harsh world around her. She's trying to make sense of what's going on, with no adults around to explain things. She doesn't understand what's happening around her, and we see the world through her naive eyes (at least, that seems to be Gilliam's intention).

Pan's story is more appealing, because it is easier to understand: a girl is trapped in a miserable situation, and she escapes to a fantasy world which helps her deal with her reality. Tideland is a little more messy. It's a difficult film to explain: a girl's parents die out in the country, she doesn't seem to realize that her father is dead, and goes on with her life, trying to explain what's happening around her through what little she already knows about the world. While the fantasy world is very real to Ofelia, it is seperate from her day-to-day reality. Jeliza Rose hasn't learned the difference between reality and make-believe, so her fantasy world and reality are all mixed together as she tries to understand her new situation. It's a very interesting idea.
Now, there's no question that this is an unpleasant movie. Jodelle Ferland is a good little actor, but she's not good enough to not be annoying in scenes where she talks in the voices of her various dolls for 5 minutes or more at a time. And the situations in the film are just...icky. The film it most reminds me of, in fact, is The Reflecting Skin, which has a similarly disturbing feel of decay, and even a similar look (I just looked it up to see if it was photographed by the same guy, and found out Viggo Mortensen was in it! I had no idea...).
The DVD also comes with a great documentary filmed for Canadian TV that's as entertaining a portrait of Gilliam as I've ever watched. Gilliam says that since the highly visual style of his earlier films has come into vogue, he's decided to go the other way with this one, and just make something quick and chaotic and actor-focused. Although I like this film, I kinda don't want that to happen--the visual style is what I love the most about his movies. But if it means more Gilliam films getting made (let's face it, it takes money to make a movie that looks like Brazil or Fear and Loathing), then I guess I'm OK with that.


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