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Customer Review

on 5 November 2008
This film is a relatively early piece of work by the Bosnian-born director Emir Kusturica, who is well known for the utterly zany but wildly entertaining Black Cat, White Cat, a cheerfully demented film set in a sprawling gypsy encampment on the banks of the Danube in Serbia. In Arizona Dream, Kusturica experimented with the surrealism that later made him famous, but perhaps because the film was set outside former Yugoslavia, and involved non-Balkan actors and a cultural context that was alien to him, the experiment didn't really work.

Several fatal flaws manifest themselves almost from the start. First, the main actors are hopelessly miscast. Johnny Depp struggles in vain to make sense of a role that is weakly defined and full of contradictions; Faye Dunaway, who looks over-tired and faded throughout, is hugely unconvincing as a sexy 40-something femme fatale; and the white-faced elfin Lili Taylor comes across not as an erotic temptress but as an obnoxious spoilt brat. Throughout, Kusturica seems to shy away from the central challenge of turning the story into a full-blooded dream sequence. Occasionally a fish floats through the air, a speeding ambulance becomes airborne, and there are several other feeble gestures towards surrealistic portrayal of the subconscious, but most of the time, the film remains stubbornly earthbound, with characters who quarrel unceasingly and loudly, and who engage in sudden inexplicable bouts of violence and irritation. Funny it isn't - all the time, the mood is jumpy, unhappy, and ominous. One somehow senses the presence, just off camera, of an irritable and frustrated director, unable to communicate properly with a cast of increasingly mystified actors who don't really understand what he wants of them.

Arizona Dream is also immensely long for what it is. It lasts for two and a quarter hours, but seems double that length. The end, when it finally arrives, comes as an enormous relief, as it did, most probably, for the actors and the film crew.

Eccentricity works well as a dramatic device only when it is provided with normality to act as a foil. Continuous eccentricity, strung out relentlessly from one episode to another without any relief at all, seems self-indulgent and juvenile, and quickly becomes tedious and unfunny, and this is the central, fatal weakness of this film. Except for the background music (by the marvellous Goran Bregovic), Arizona Dream fails on all fronts. Fortunately, Kusturica learned from this early disaster and went on to do far better things.
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