American cinema feels uncomfortable with eccentricity. Either it's crazy and too far off the wall or farcical - which covers Jim Carrey when he's not being serious and Robin Williams unplugged.

Arizona Dream is something else, a unique film by a highly original Bosnian director (Emir Kusturica), responsible for two of the best movies (When Father Was Away On Business, Time Of The Gypsies) to come out of Eastern Europe in the Eighties.

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The fact that it doesn't work and ends with a dead guy squatting by a fishing hole in the Arctic makes no difference to the enjoyment of watching extraordinary imagery, bizarre humour and wild acting, particularly from Faye Dunaway as a manic depressive, paranoid, alcoholic, middle-aged nymphomaniac with a passion for young men and flying machines.

Axel (Johnny Depp) is perfectly content working for the water authorities in New York, tagging fish in the Hudson, when his brother Paul (Vincent Gallo), an intense, failed actor, forces him to drive to Arizona to become their father's brother's best man. Uncle Leo (Jerry Lewis) owns the local Cadillac franchise and is about to marry Millie (Paulina Porizkova), "my Polish cupcake," who is 30 years younger and hardly able to speak the language.

Leo persuades the reluctant Axel to become a car salesman for a week - much training in the art of the "hello" - but his heart is not in it, until Elaine (Dunaway) and her step-daughter Grace (Lil Taylor) enter the showroom, intent on buying something gleaming and pink.

Axel ends up at Elaine's rambling mansion in the wide open savannah, with one great tree in the yard, under which a husky howls in the rain. The madness all around is contained within the confines of the house and what remains of this family, with a suicidal Grace hating her life and the woman who dominates it, verbose and garrulous and quickly infatuated, as Axel spends his days building pedal-propelled aeroplanes in the shed.

The film is genuinely funny, oddly surprising and tragically affectionate. The performances are beyond the realm of expectation, grounding the flights of fancy to recognisable patterns of dysfunction. You learn to love these people and, in loving them, share their magical dreams.

Reviewed on: 26 Oct 2004
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A water authority worker gets suckered into helping with his uncle's car business, with unexpected consequences.
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Director: Emir Kusturica

Writer: David Atkins, Emir Kusturica

Starring: Johnny Depp, Jerry Lewis, Faye Dunaway, Lili Taylor, Vincent Gallo, Paulina Porizkova

Year: 1993

Runtime: 142 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US/France

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