Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Darjeeling Limited

The Darjeeling Limited (Wes Anderson, 2007) [7]
I feel conflicted about this film and am not really sure why. I've liked all of Anderson's previous film, even The Life Aquatic, whose reaction was decidedly mixed. This film has had the same type of critical reaction, and while I still like it more than some critics, it's problems are the same raised by Anderson's detractors. He seems so caught up in his visual quirks and formal choices that it feels like the same film over and over again. Setting the film in India is a way to break away a little, the striking images of the subcontinent a clear homage to Renoir's The River. I've never had a problem with Anderson's meticulous formal approach which here he loosens up a little bit by freeing up the frame a little more, allowing it to drift over the landscape and using more zooms and pans to loosen up his typical tightness. What I feel is kind of stagnant is the story, heavy on the WASPy dysfunctional that has become standard in Anderson's films (The Life Aquatic somewhat the exception). Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Adrien Brody play three brothers, trying to reconnect with each other after their father's death and their mother's lack of support. The brothers all have their particular quirks but I really feel the characters' emotions don't go that beyond the surface. Wilson's character was the most fleshed out to me, using his bossiness and wealth to coax his hopes of spiritual enlightenment on his brothers. He also has a secret agenda: to find their absent mother, hidden in a convent somewhere in India. This is pretty common ground for Anderson story wise and no matter how good the film looks and how entertaining it is while watching it, it still rings a little hollow afterwards. It smacks of a sameness that while it can be reassuring for his fans, definitely isn't going to win a lot of new ones. That may sound harsh and I don't mean it to be since I still liked the film. India here isn't a touristy backdrop; it has a beguiling charm, and at the same time, isn't quite foreign. The train itself has other Western tourists and the staff speaks English. Anderson keeps the setting at a distance, which works in that it doesn't create issues with the film but it at times lacks dimension like the characters. Still, I want to repeat I liked the film. That's all I can really surmise from The Darjeeling Limited. If you like Wes Anderson's previous films, you'll like this.

Hotel Chevalier is a short that played before the actual film that is meant to be a prelude. Seeing it right before the main film hinders me a bit from evaluating it on its own. It has some interesting elements about it, most notably the terse, clipped dialogue between the Schwartzman and Natalie Portman characters. The short also shows off the stylistic flourishes that make the main film stronger. Since it really seems not much different than the feature, it seems unnecessary to grade it on its own.

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