Monday, September 5, 2016

In Brief: Gus Van Sant's SEA OF TREES (2015) - a contrary position

Critically reviled film was a major disappointment at Cannes where there were numerous walkouts and full on booing when it ended. When the film was picked up by A24 many writers were left scratching their heads as to why they did it, but were hopeful that the company saw something those at Cannes didn't. When the film was release writers then began to ponder why it as getting released because it was so absolutely awful.

The thing is it's not awful, not perfect but no where near awful.

Wandering into Aokigahara, a forest near mount Fuji in Japan known for being a magnet for people in emotional distress, a man named Arthur (Matthew McConaughey) is looking for a place to commit suicide. Just as he is about to take an over dose of pills he hears the sound of someone in trouble and finds Takumi Nakamura (Ken Watanabe) lost and stumbling around. He wants to go home. Arthur wants no part of him and tries to send him  on the right path, but instead finds they must travel together if either is going to go home.

To be honest the film isn't perfect. The flashback sequences with Naomi as Arthur's wife, while good, belong in a completely other film. The sequences come across as if they are from some parallel story that keeps intruding on the main narrative. I know why they are there and as I said they are good but from a cinematic perspective the sequences trip things up. While you need them to understand Arthur's motivation,  they intrude because the Arthur in those sequences runs counter to the Arthur in the woods. We know why but its grating and lessens the impact of the film.

Personally if I could chop out all the flashback sequence I think we'd have a kick ass little film.

Having seen the film I'm left to ponder what did my fellow writers think the film was going to be? WHy did they hate it so? integrating the flashbacks aside I don't think anything is really wrong with the film. Yes it's obvious as to what is happening, I mean the film telegraphs the punchline of the film almost from the minute that Nakamura shows up, if not before. If you can't guess who he is and what is going to happen then something is wrong.  But it doesn't matter since the interplay between the actors is go good you don't care.

I'm sorry this movie doesn't suck. Its not a disaster and it's actually quite charming once you realize its not going to do any special tricks but do what you expect really well.

I like the film and recommend it

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