Thursday, September 4, 2014

In short: Blueberry (2004)

aka Renegade

Mike Blueberry (Vincent Cassel) and his buddy Jimmy McClure (Colm Meaney) are marshals in an Old West town bordering on the holy mountains of the Chiricahua. Despite carrying some personal demons around with him, Blueberry is friends with the Chiricahua shaman Runi (Temuera Morrison), and is doing his best to keep the peace between everyone in the area.

That job is rather more difficult because some of the local whites believe the holy mountains to be home to a treasure hoard, and men like local rich guy Greg Sullivan (Geoffrey Lewis) – who just happens to be the father of Blueberry’s spunky and intense love interest Maria (Juliette Lewis) - or the crazy German prospector Prosit (Eddie Izzard) – whose name by the way translates into “cheers!” - are willing to do some quite shitty things to get at that gold.

However, there’s an even greater threat to the Chiricahuas, the peace, and perhaps even Blueberry’s soul around, in form of Blueberry’s oldest enemy, one Wallace Sebastian Blount (Michael Madsen), who is looking for something in the holy mountains, too. Blount isn’t looking for gold, though, but wants to learn a way to kill with his spirit. Which makes him the sort of enemy who can only be conquered in a giant peyote trip/healing spirit journey.

As you can see, Jan Kounen’s (loose, the titles tell us, and given my lack of knowledge with the source material, I’m just going to believe that) adaptation of venerable French leftist Western comic series Blueberry isn’t exactly a straightforward Western. Rather, it’s the kind of film that doesn’t end in a climactic shootout but in a climactic, CGI heavy drug trip.

Unlike myself Blueberry takes the whole shamanism thing very seriously, attempting to turn what could be a relatively straightforward tale of revenge and redemption into one of spiritual enlightenment, seeming to mean every strange thing it does quite intensely, which really left me as a watcher who doesn’t share its convictions in the position of either pointing and laughing at the crazy people (and I’m not that kind of atheist), or just rolling with it and trying to get into the spirit (sorry) of things.

The latter approach is made rather more easy by the simple fact that Kounen is really, really good at making the whole film feel like a drug trip full of symbols you might or might not understand, or where understanding them might not even be the point, with every camera angle seemingly chosen for maximum confusion; and that’s before the really rather effective (or silly, or both, depending on your position) religious tripping even starts.

Consequently, the film’s plot – such as it is – meanders through various Western clichés seen from a sideways angle, stops, starts, and stops again, making circles and turns that don’t really lead anywhere only to get back to the beginning of things. For a viewer who likes her films plot heavy, Kounen’s approach will probably be infuriating, but if you’re willing to let things just flow over you, you might get a lot out of the film.

At the very least, Blueberry is pretty much a one of a kind film (I don’t think comparing it with Jodorowsky would be fair, despite the shared interest in shamanistic practices and utter weirdness); if it’s successful for any given viewer will depend on him as much as on the film, I think.

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