R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Terry Gilliam
scr Terry Gilliam, Tony Grisoni
with Jodelle Ferland, Jeff Bridges, Brendan Fletcher, Janet McTeer, Jennifer Tilly, Dylan Taylor, Wendy Anderson, Sally Crooks, Aldon Adair, Kent Wolkowski, Glitter Gal
release UK 11.Aug.06,
US 13.Oct.06
05/Canada HanWay 2h02

Take a ride: Ferland and Bridges

fletcher mcteer tilly

Toronto Film Fest

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Tideland Based on the Mitch Cullin novel, this child's-eye story is a very odd blend of comedy and gruesomeness. Gilliam is as inventive as ever addressing this fascinating, important topic, but it's a very hard film to watch.

Jeliza-Rose (Ferland) has two junkies (Bridges and Tilly) for parents, and their complete abdication of responsibilities leaves her to live inside her vivid imagination. In her grandmother's isolated farmhouse, she feels like Alice lost in a sort of upside-down Wonderland. The world around her becomes a macabre fairy tale, with four headless dolls as companions. And she only has two neighbours: ghostly one-eyed Dell (McTeer) and her brain-damaged brother Dickens (Fletcher), whose imagination gives Jeliza-Rose a run for her money.

Gilliam's approach here is similar to the look of Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas--sun-drenched cinematography, free-wheeling imagery and cartoonish performances. Ferland is the only actor who's even remotely realistic, and she's a real discovery, balancing the film's odd tone-shifts to create a character we can really feel for. Everyone else is so over-the-top and twitchy that they're never remotely believable. We're clearly seeing them through Jeliza-Rose's vivid imagination, but it's impossible to connect with any of them.

It's difficult to describe these performances, simply because they're so surreal and vulgar, encased in quirky makeup, fake teeth, ratty costumes and goofy mannerisms. We get glimpses of real people within the characters, but not often. The only one who's remotely sympathetic is Dickens, and Fletcher does bring a tender man-child quality to the role. But even he's too fidgety for us to warm to. And as a result, the film feels like a test of endurance.

Gilliam's feverish, drug-trippy style is fascinating to watch, especially with his astonishing visual ingenuity. But he also does his best to alienate viewers by indulging in repulsive imagery--a steady stream of morbid grisliness that keeps us feeling queasy. As a result, this is what we're reacting to, rather than the shocking aspects of the premise--a little girl who's abused, forgotten and forced to withdraw into herself. We want to ache for her, and to understand her feelings, but it's not easy.

cert 18 themes, language, grisliness, drugs, sexuality 5.May.06

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2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall