Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bouli Lanners' ELDORADO: Dry, funny, sad, this male-bonding road movie delivers

Bouli Lanners (shown just below) is an odd duck. From his weighty physical presence, definitely more attractive clothed than not, to his shuffling gait and reticent manner, he sneaks up on you. Pretty soon, you can't take your eyes off him. Now 44, he's worked as an actor in European film and TV pretty consistently over the last 20 years, during the past

eight of which he's also begun writing and directing -- first with a short titled Muno (2001), then the full-length Ultranova (2004) and now ELDORADO. Because Lanners' first two filmmaking endeavors remain unseen here in the USA, I can only judge by his latest: a two-guy road movie that may remind some of Monte Hellman's over-rated Two-Lane Blacktop. But other than the two-guys-in-an-old-American-car motif, comparisons nod in the direction of Lanners. In every way, his is the superior film.

Start with its short length -- only 80 minutes, yet the writer/director manages to fill every one of these with something that interests and often rivets. His two main characters fascinate. One, played by Lanners, while clearly in charge, never insists. He's a lonely guy, and it's this loneliness that drives him. The other man, younger and even more problemed, remains a kind of mystery throughout -- even though we meet his family and get to know him better, in certain ways, than we probably know some of our would-be friends. The bond that forms between the two stems from the need and desire to help, and this keeps the movie on a kind of moral ground from which it never veers (if, that is, you are among those who believe that people are more important than property). Though it makes a number of bizarre side trips involving odd characters -- the oddest of whom is known as "Alain Delon" -- every moment and every character rings true, despite our often having done little more than watch some a bit of bizarre behavior. This, I say, is an accomplishment.

Lanners seems to innately know how much to say and show so that he gives us just enough to allow us to understand and forge ahead, while still struggling a bit with the ideas of identity, responsibility and trust. In the press notes, the writer/director says the movie came from an event that happened to him one day upon returning to his home. He's taken the bare bones of this event and leapt off into his own version. Of immense help to the project is Lanner's other lead actor (whose first film this is): Fabrice Adde. Gifted with a beautiful face, as interesting in repose as it is animated (which happens but occasionally in this film), Adde makes a great foil for Lanners, while maintaining the mystery of his character right up until the end. (Even then, we can't say for certain what has happened or why).

Audience members were guffawing noticeably during the screening of Eldorado, yet the film cannot be called a comedy; the final few scenes in particular are quite dark. Using a wide-screen format, Lanners and his cinematographer Jean-Paul de Zaetijd produce some memorable vistas, yet somehow the view we take away with us from this unusual film is "interior." Out of the tension produced by the isolation from family and the need to connect, the movie-maker has managed to create a weird kind of life and art, complete with humor, sadness and a profundity that never pushes.

Eldorado opens for an exclusive Manhattan run on Friday, May 1, at the Angelika Film Center. Other cities may soon follow, and -- as the film us being distributed by Film Movement -- a DVD release is also assured.

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