`donkey-boy' is a jumble

Movie reviews

January 07, 2000|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

Who would want to see "julien donkey-boy," Harmony Korine's grim portrait of a schizophrenic young man coping with a (what else?) dysfunctional family?

Fans of Werner Herzog will want to see it to see the legendary German director in a rare screen performance as a blisteringly abusive father. Followers of Korine, who made a name for himself writing "Kids" and later made the wildly controversial "Gummo," will want to check out his latest flick if only to figure out just what he's up to.

And cineastes familiar with Dogme '95, a group of Scandinavian filmmakers who authored a theory of low-tech filmmaking two years ago, may want to see the first American movie to be made under its strict aesthetic guidelines. (Like the first Dogme '95 film, "julien donkey-boy" was filmed on digital video, using all natural light, no post-production sound and in-camera editing.)

Whether or not even this limited audience will be rewarded depends on its threshold for jerky, cinema-verite camera movements, occasionally awkward improvised performances and a murky raison d'etre.

Presumably a portrait of a sensitive schizophrenic young man, played with unsettling fidelity by the Scottish actor Ewen Bremner, "julien donkey-boy" -- which begins a three-day run today at the Charles Theatre -- too often comes across as a jumble of images and vignettes that are only linked by Korine's penchant for grotesquerie.

The director has said he purposefully left holes in "julien donkey-boy's" narrative and characterization, so that audiences can fill in those blanks themselves. The result is an hour and a half of considerably heavy lifting. By this grisly tale's troubling end, filmgoers may well wonder whether it was worth the work.

`julien donkey-boy'

Starring Ewen Bremner, Chloe Sevigny, Werner Herzog, Evan Neumann

Directed by Harmony Korine

Rated R (language, some sexuality and disturbing images)

Running time 94 minutes

Released by Independent Pictures

Sun score: * 1/2

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