Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Venice: The Darjeeling Limited

Wes Anderson has being playing the same sandpit for a while now, making the kind of quirky, kooky pictures that you either love or hate. Less funny and more maudlin than his previous work, The Darjeeling Limited doesn’t have either the big emotional hook of Rushmore or the abundant zany humour of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Not that it’s in any way a bad film, rather a tad insubstantial. And yet, it reveals Anderson’s increasingly accomplished technique as well as his love for Satyajit Ray. The Whitman brothers — controlling Francis (Owen Wilson), short story writer Jack (Jason Schwartzman, co-scripter with Anderson and Roman Coppola) and soon-to-be father Peter (Adrien Brody) — ride a train across India, a literal trip that Francis hopes will offer a spiritual journey too, and a chance to bond again following their father’s death a year before. He has another motive: to visit their estranged mother, now a nun in a Himalayan mountaintop convent — a nod, presumably, to Black Narcissus — played by Anjelica Huston. (Fellow Anderson regular Bill Murray also pops up in two scenes.) Soon, the siblings fall into their customary, bickering ways: Francis has his onboard assistant provide them with daily, laminated itineraries; Peter claims he was their father’s favorite; Jack checks his ex-girlfriend’s answer machine and enjoys a fling with the stewardness. It’s only after the death of a young Indian child that the siblings finally find some connection, with each other and the land they’re travelling in. The performances are spot-on (Brody slips into this world effortlessly); the colors rich and lush; the soundtrack again cool and eclectic; the cinematic language deliberate and formal, despite Anderson filming on a moving train. If you’re a fan (and I am) there’s much to enjoy, although, in retrospect, you’ll maybe find yourself willing yourself to like it more than you do. (There are, alas, some uncomfortable similarities between Wilson’s recent off-screen problems and those of his character. At one point, Francis avers: “I have some healing to do.”) The film was preceded here by Hotel Chevalier, a 13-minute Anderson-directed starring Schwartzman (again as Jack Whitman) and (a naked) Natalie Portman as his ex-girlfriend, set entirely in a Paris hotel room. It proved to be a tasty appetiser to the main feature and was, in some ways, more satisfying. Made in 2005 and referred to onscreen as “Part 1 of The Darjeeling Limited”, the short won’t play with the film on its theatrical release, but, according to Anderson, will be available online, at festivals and on DVD.

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