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TIFF 2014: ‘Manglehorn’ is David Gordon Green’s most daring film to date

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Manglehorn
Written by Paul Logan
Directed by David Gordon Green
USA, 2014

David Gordon Green has never allowed himself to be easily pinned down as a filmmaker. After making his name with dreamy independent films about relationships and growing up, he moved onto big budget comedies of varying quality. While even his most dire efforts bring a certain amount of style (even the awful Your Highness had a compelling visual softness not usually associated with medieval stoner comedies), many have mourned the direction of his career. His newest effort, Manglehorn, feels like a bastard child of these two worlds. In many ways it’s his most visually adventurous film since his career began, but it’s hardly a return to his early work in terms of feel, theme or style.

Al Pacino stars as the titular character of Manglehorn, an old grizzled locksmith who spends his days yearning for the lost love of his life, Clara. Introspective, bitter and crass, he struggles for money and devotes any love or affection he has left to his cat, Fanny. The rest of the cast boasts Holly Hunter (as Clara), Chris Messina and Harmony Korine, who all deliver resonating performances. The film’s off-kilter nature flatters the over-the-top nature of the film’s style, and helps contribute to the bizarre universe that David Gordon Green crafts.

Never has a Green film looked quite like this one. Evoking latter day Tony Scott, with tangential references to Spring Breakers (though perhaps this is only through the osmosis of Korine’s presence) and Stan Brakhage. One of the most hypnotically evocative films in years, the movie utilizes texture to beautiful effect, only compounded by its use of superimposition during interior moments. As each image layer is already saturated and textured, the effect is almost chaotic but it’s also beautiful in its maximalism. It is interesting how many filmmakers during this festival have utilized similar stylistic choices in creating their films, including The Duke of Burgundy and McKean’s Luna, revitalizing a trend that seemed to have lost favour sometime in the late 1970s.

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The visual effect of the superimposition evokes the idea of two worlds, the one that we understand as reality and the heightened world in which Manglehorn seems to thrive. This is only amplified by the film’s sound design, which is atmospheric and exaggerated, as well as the film’s soundtrack which is composed by David Wingo alongside Explosions in the Sky. The film does not examine a duality as much as it suggests an air of parallelism of emotions, thoughts and even people. This is not a friendly or easy relationship, however, and instead suggests a world of chaos and contradiction.

Drawing from his more recent efforts, Manglehorn dips in and out of surreal environments. The humour of the film is certainly more understated than in his broader comedy works, but nonetheless present. As most of Green’s comedy efforts fit into the stoner comedy sub-genre, they always have an atmosphere of the impossible; through observation and imagination they transform the mundane into the surreal. Even in his weaker efforts, like The Sitter, that weird journey into that muscle gym transcends normality into a world of the absurd and the surreal. Perhaps the most beautiful example of this in Manglehorn is when Pacino stumbles upon a car pile-up reminiscent of Jean-Luc Godard’s Week End. While the shot is not sustained quite as long as Godard’s, it evokes a similar artificiality to Godard’s fake blood, but this time with crushed watermelon. The image is darkly hilarious and is emblematic of the film’s unique universe.

At the heart of this bizarre surrealism, though, is Manglehorn himself. While a bitter and difficult old man, he also seems imbued with magical powers. While he himself seems all but unaware of these qualities, or at least their bizarreness, he is spoken about with reverence by even his enemies for some of his miracles. Even the audience becomes witness to some of his magic, though to what final purpose remains vague.This nonetheless exists on the peripheries of the main narrative, a punctuation of surrealism rather than the focus of it.

Manglehorn is a bizarre beast of a film, and will certainly confound as much as it impresses. David Gordon Green is proving to be quite a difficult filmmaker to get a read on, and he has long abandoned easily pleasing his audiences. Manglehorn may certainly prove to be his most divisive film yet, pleasing neither the mainstream nor the arthouse crowd. While the film will likely challenge sensibilities, to open yourself up to it is to allow yourself to become absorbed in a totally unique and bizarre universe.

–- Justine Smith

Visit the official website of the Toronto International Film Festival.




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