Mister Lonely

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A movie for every day of the year – a good one

18 July

Papal infallibility proclaimed, 1870

On this day in 1870, the Catholic church declared that certain utterances by its pope were to be considered infallible – they could not be wrong. The Church had long held that pronouncements made by the pope in his official capacity, and speaking ex cathedra, had a universal truth to them, basing this notion on Jesus Christ’s words to Peter, the first Pope – “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18). However, the formalisation of this understanding was brought about by Pope Pius IX during the first Vatican Council. This was held in July 1870 at the point when Rome, under papal control and French protection, was holding out against the otherwise unified (since 1861) Italy, which had named Rome as its capital but was biding its time in Turin waiting for the political weather to change. On 19 July the Franco-Prussian war began, and the French garrison left Rome to defend its homeland. The day before, the Pope, perhaps sensing an imminent loss of temporal power, made the spiritual land grab.

Mister Lonely (2007, dir: Harmony Korine)

Harmony Korine’s first film since 1999’s Julien Donkey-Boy was received by a bewildered critical world ready to dump on Korine, writer of the highly controversial Kids. Mister Lonely seems designed further to aggravate and bewilder, possibly also to entertain, depending on how adaptable your mindset is. The cast list alone is an orange light – provocateur directors Werner Herzog and Leos Carax are both prominent – and once Korine and ace cinematographer Marcel Zyskind get going it’s clear that we’re on a journey into arthouse excess. Things kick off with Bobby Vinton’s Mr Lonely on the soundtrack while a tiny motorbike crosses the screen in slo-mo. Hello David Lynch. But then we cut to Diego Luna, as a Michael Jackson impersonator working in Paris, where, one day, he meets Marilyn Monroe (Samantha Morton), in Seven Year Itch garb. An impersonator also. Why don’t you come with me to Scotland, says Marilyn to Michael, where I live with a husband, Charlie Chaplin (Dennis Lavant). So off MJ goes, only to find that Marilyn and Charlie’s daughter is Shirley Temple, and among the people they hang out with are the Pope, Abraham Lincoln, James Dean, the Queen, Sammy Davis Jr, Little Red Riding Hood and Madonna. Korine divides the film into chapters, part one being The Man in the Mirror, 2 is Beat It, 3 Thriller, and finally You Are Not Alone – except that Diego Luna’s Michael is by now, for reasons that would be spoilerish to divulge, very much alone.

Meanwhile, in an apparently unrelated story, some nuns are learning to fly, with Herzog playing the role of a semi-crazed enthusiastic priest hoping for miracles as he distributes food parcels to the poor of Africa.

Is Korine making profound statements about the thinness of celebrity compared to what really matters in the world? Thankfully, he’s not. Instead he seems to be trying to revivify the sort of arthouse cinema that existed in the 1960s, as practised most notably by Fellini, in which the conscious and unconscious worlds co-exist with varying degrees of ease.

Whether this works in an age that doesn’t take Sigmund Freud half as seriously is moot, but Korine has an eye for a picture and is adept at conjuring up an image that haunts the mind. This is a frustrating film that had me leaning forward with mouth agape for periods, throwing myself back in the chair in exasperation at others, hovering on the edge of sleep at others still. But you’ve got to applaud a cineaste who believes that cinema is transformative, energising and inspiring, even if you’re never entirely sure whether he believes it himself. Those iconic characters, let’s remember, are all fakes.

Why Watch?

  • There’s no such thing as a boring Korine film
  • The director of Spring Breakers as he gets his mojo back
  • First time on screen together for Anita Pallenberg and James Fox since Performance
  • The cinematography of Marcel Zyskind (Code 46)

Mister Lonely – Watch it now at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2014

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