Eye For Film >> Movies >> Julien Donkey-Boy (1999) Film Review
Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown
A film about a schizophrenic young man, shot in accordance with the rules of the Dogme 95 movement, Julien Donkey-Boy is sure to provoke a strong reaction.
The film opens with Julien (Ewen Bremner) apparently killing a young boy and burying his body in the dirt.
Having grabbed our attention, writer-director Harmony Korine then makes no futher reference to this incident, spending the next 80 minutes with domestic and everyday scenes.
We learn that Julien lives with his sister, Pearl (Chloe Sevigny) who is pregnant by an unknown man; his brother Chris (Evan Neumann), who aspires to be a wrestler; and his father (Werner Herzog), who tyrannises his children and likes to listen to artless (genuine? authentic?) blues songs while wearing a gasmask.
Julien's mother is conspicuously absent (one of the songs questions, "Who'll rock the cradle when I'm gone?") having died giving birth to Chris.
When not at home, Julien wanders the streets, hangs around with various physically handicapped locals, and goes to church.
Working (mostly) with the aesthetic limitations imposed by Dogma's "Vow of Chastity" Korine still manages to display a wide range of techniques, using these to convey what I took to be a sense of schizophrenicity.
Unfortunately, Julien Donkey-Boy has a somewhat schizoid feel to it as a whole. The over-dramatic opening and closing sequences seem almost to have come from different drafts of the film than the quotidian vignettes they bookend, and their relatively conventional nature suggests Korine still has some way to go in his quest for a "new cinema".
For me, the film's saving grace are the performances. Ewen Bremner is compelling and utterly convincing in the title role, quickly banishing all memory of his past roles in Irving Welsh adaptations, while Chloe Sevigny continues to impress in her willingness to resist Hollywood glamour.
Werner Herzog's Teutonic ogre may be a self-parody, but it's also one that provides the film with a questioning, self-critical edge - "I don't like it because it's so artsy-fartsy" is his response to Julien's repetitive, non-rhyming, dinner-table poem; one that many would make to the film itself.
Julien Donkey-Boy is the sort of film that you really have to make up your own minds about.Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001