The first US film to be made under the Dogme 95 vow of chastity, Harmony Korine's follow up to the controversial 'Gummo' tells the story of schizophrenic Julien (Ewen Bremner), his pregnant sister Pearl (Chloe Sevigny), and their pedantic, over-bearing father (Werner Herzog). Using handheld digital cameras, Korine gathers together a series of disparate incidents in the life of the family - Julien's friendship with a young blind figure-skater (Chrissy Kobylak), Pearl's masquerade as her and Julien's dead mother, their brother's (Evan Nueman) training as wrestler, a visit to a gospel meeting - while slowly and subtly building towards a tragic climax.
There's going to be no middle-ground in your opinion of Harmony Korine's second film Julien Donkey Boy
--it's either a blazing, daring masterpiece or one of the worst movies ever made. Ewen Bremner, the gawkiest of the Trainspotting
gang, transforms himself into the terrifying yet pathetic Julien, with curly black hair, removable teeth, a letter-perfect American maniac accent and the body language of the truly demented. Julien is a schizophrenic but rather than observe his mental problems the film chooses to crawl inside them--we're never sure how much of what we see is actually happening and none of the "sane" characters make much sense either. Julien's family consists of a brother (Evan Neuman) who is constantly climbing stairs like a lizard to beef himself up for a contest that turns out to be ridiculous, a pregnant sister (Chloe Sevigny) who sometimes phones him up pretending to be their dead mother and a hard man father (Werner Herzog) who douses him with freezing water to toughen him up and delivers a bizarrely sincere soliloquy about the superiority of the ending of Dirty Harry
over Julien's pretentious improvised poem. Though it comes with a certificate of authenticity from the Danish Dogma 95 movement, it violates several of the cardinal rules of their manifesto epitomised by Festen
and The Idiots
: there is unsourced music on the soundtrack, special effects in the form of pixellated or freeze-frame images and action as family arguments explode into scrum-like fights (Korine's directorial debut, Gummo
, was closer in spirit to the movement). It opens and closes with the tragic deaths of children, but is mostly a shapeless series of scenes that deliver an impression of madness rather than a story. Bits of it are undeniably irritating, just as mad people usually are, but there are lucid flashes where Korine gets his cast to focus on their characters and provide great scenes. --Kim Newman