As Westerns go, apart from two or three classics which are "ancient" already, I enjoy what's offbeat, original and shot with a really attentive eye to the wild, so 'Blueberry' was just my kind of film.
Where the "cinéma fantastique" goes, Jan Kounen's movie went a long way, far more interesting than many, but sometimes much too dependent on the special effects to get near the heart of shamanism and journeys of initiation.
The big French film to start the year brings a generally excellent international cast to a tale borrowed from a comic strip hero, with Vincent Kassel in his strongest starring role to date as the small town marshal from Louisiana who has to confront a savage killer at the same time as his own past, his fears and a mind scar left by the violent death of a prostitute.
The sense of new frontiers on the edge of what passes for "civilisation", both physical and spiritual, pervades the whole film, which has a good number of strong scenes in town (Palamito, with entertaining nods in the direction of Western clichés, the tense saloon, a noisy defenestration, booze and shootouts), and among the Indians and in the desert and the sacred mountains where the climax of Blueberry's journeys takes place.
Before making 'Blueberry', which strays a long way from the character created by Jean "Moebius" Giraud, Kounen spent months with the Tarahumara people in Mexico and pursued his interest in shamanism into the Amazonian forest.
The movie was shot in Spain, Mexico and France: the 'Blueberry' site (Fr. and Eng.) tells something of the locations, while nature itself plays an important role in the story.
Somebody who saw 'Blueberry' a few days ago told me it had "a touch of intelligent spaghetti Western meets Lara Croft" and I kind of see what she meant, though it mines a much deeper vein than both.
Kounen's 'Dobermann' (1997; IMDb) was a violent like-it-or-loathe-it first venture beyond stylish shorts and videoclips. I didn't enjoy it myself, but saw signs of a talent with the potential of a Luc Besson or a Matthieu Kossevitz. Here, the director asks a great more of his cast and it pays off.
Kassel, thin-faced, tired and clever, is perfect for the title part and carries much of the film on his back, along with New Zealand-born Temuera Morrison as his Indian friend Rumi, who becomes a shaman. In secondary roles, I enjoyed Michael Madsen as the brutal Wallace Blount — who doesn't kill, as he puts it, Indians and other "animals" — and Eddie Izzard as the Prussian geologist and adventurer Prosit. As the girl, Juliette Lewis gives more than I've seen before.
After coming out of it this afternoon, I read a good interview in 'L'Ecran Fantastique' (construction site for now; Fr.) where Kassel explained how deeply he got into the role and the difficulties of some of the location shooting. And it shows.