GERRY directed by Gus Van Sant, written by Van Sant, Matt Damon and Casey Affleck, produced by Dany Wolf, with Damon and Affleck. 103 minutes. A Cactus films production. A ThinkFilm release. Opens Friday (April 18). For review, venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 74. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
Here's a film guaranteed to polarize viewers. Gerry is probably the first film by a major American director to be heavily influenced by the Hungarian director Béla Tarr, the cineaste laureate of people walking away from the camera. In the rain. Until the film runs out or the camera operator dies. I actually like Tarr's work, to my surprise. I don't hate his technique, just that scenically dull corner of Hungary where he shoots all his movies. I get tired of looking at mud.
Matt Damon and the other Affleck, Casey, collaborated with director Gus Van Sant on the "story," about two young men who, on their way to see something in the desert, take a wrong turn on the way back to the car and get lost, permanently, in the sun-bleached wastes of the California and Nevada deserts.
It's barely a story at all, and following the commercial success of Finding Forrester, you have to ask what the heck is up with Gus Van Sant's apparent impulse toward career suicide.
Every time he has a hit, he follows it with something completely bizarre: the successful Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho with the universally reviled Even Cowgirls Get The Blues; the critical success To Die For and huge commercial hit Good Will Hunting (his only Oscar nomination) with his notorious "shot-for-shot" remake of Psycho; and the relatively successful Finding Forrester with a movie that's literally a two-hander with dialogue that could've been written on a matchbook. OK, two matchbooks.
A good thing, then, that Van Sant came to the Toronto International Film Festival with Gerry and I was able to ask him myself at the Intercontinental Hotel. Van Sant, a youthful 50, looks less like comic Jeff Altman than his IMDb headshot suggests.
He chuckles at my question. "You have part of that formulation wrong. Producers thought Cowgirls was a good idea. It's My Own Private Idaho that everyone thought I was crazy to make after Drugstore Cowboy. Well, it was, but people got it. Nobody got the Psycho remake.
"For Gerry, Matt told me the story, which I thought was interesting, and I'd just seen Sátántangó (Tarr's seven-hour film) and was very moved by it. I thought that using real time the way Tarr does is fascinating, and I wanted to assimilate that experience into this film. Tarr's style takes a lot of things that you've learned for cinema and ignores them."
Basically, Gerry follows the two doofuses as they try to walk their way out of the Mojave and Great Southwestern Deserts, which, of course, is not easily done.
The technique, says Van Sant, "forces the audience to consider what it is they're watching, and it also allows time to put the audience into the same space as the characters."
Which doesn't explain the Psycho remake, of course.
"Well, there are multiple functions to remaking a film, and I just decided to treat the original film as a found object. One of the things that bothers me about remakes is that they change what's essential to the original film, which is the director's style. I decided to update the film by not changing it. Making it into a thing out of time.
"More and more, Hollywood is trying to turn itself into Die Hard 2, to make films that only get made because they're something that worked before. Psycho is a statement about that sort of thinking."
There's something to be said for a filmmaker who never follows up a commercial hit with another one just like it, even if it was a little disappointing to see him follow the failure of Psycho with Finding Forrester, which retreads Good Will Hunting, and badly.
Then again, now we have the chance to imagine how Van Sant will follow up Gerry. email@example.com