Monday, 24 November 2008


Tidelands is a wonderful, very misunderstood film that had the bad luck to follow both Del Toro's wonderful Pan's Labyrinth and Terry Gilliam's woeful Brothers Grimm.

Pan's Labyrinth, like Tidelands, follows an abandoned child through a dangerous, fantastical arena that may be in her own head. The child in Pan's is in war-torn Spain while the Tideland protagonist is in middle America following the death of her parents. They are very different films. Pan's has a romance to it, despite the genuine danger of fascists and their kind, has a wonderful sense of romanticism in the images dreamed up by its heroine. Tidelands is far more psychotic. It's protagonist is in denial about her dead father rotting in a decaying house (she is first seen preparing his heroin), about the madness as shown by the two humans she meets, a mad semi-lobotomised dreamer who wants to destroy a train and his strange, twisted sister. She talks to doll's heads, sees her father taxidermied by her human friends, seems childish throughout, unsure. Its a very brave film in that the heroine is unlikable some of the time, yet is always interesting. It's very difficult to write more about the film without giving away much of its pleasures but it is a film that has to be seen by serious cineasts. It's slightly messy but is that adds to its charm.

Its 180 degrees away from The Brother's Grimm, which was a film so wretched that no auteur would ever want to be caught downwind. That was a film that made you wonder if Gilliam had gone completely senile, was lacking in basic character and pacing, had one of the dullest final acts that's ever been my misfortune to watch. And it was really stupid, lacking anything tied to the wonders of dark European fairy tales. And in Tidelands, within a simple narrative, he gets the old European fairytale tone exactly right, plays on the horror in mid-America but never over-does it. The pacing here is deliberate, is never boring. Its a wonderful, under-rated film that deserves a lot more attention than it gets. In some ways, it feels like a companion piece to Fear And Loathing, with its view of rotting America both outside and inside the character's heads, and is potentially as unlikable to many viewers. But its is a tough, adventurous film, they kind that should be made and acclaimed. It makes you wonder how Gilliam went so horribly wrong in Brothers Grimm, which now seems like a jarring mess amidst a series of strong films. At least Gilliam is back to being a proper director and his forthcoming film looks fascinating.

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