6/19/2009

DVD Review: The Perfect Sleep (2009)






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For those of you who thought that Last Year at Marienbad, Inland Empire, The Tracey Fragments and Slipstream weren't challenging enough-- The Perfect Sleep has your name written all over it.



Essentially the movie is a cinematic version of the ACT test. Except instead of those pointless prep courses for which anxious parents shell out tons of dollars only for their teens to be told to guess if they don't know the answer-- a viewer well-versed in film noir figures they'll be more than prepared for The Perfect Sleep no guessing required.



Yet, this couldn't be further from the truth as this irritating movie is sure to perplex even the most die-hard noir and neo-noir enthusiasts. And it's especially troubling when you're faced with the ultimate realization that-- unlike the Rubik's Cube which I read that some people finally broke in frustration just to glue it back together to produce the full color sides-- in terms of Sleep, we're told right from the start by our self-important narrator that "clever types" will assume that things will make sense or mean something in the end but he's correct when he promises that we're "wrong." Therefore, it doesn't mean a damn thing... only to present a beautiful if nonsensical noir "dreamscape" in which the characters conspire, reveal, fight, fall in love, and inevitably bleed a whole lot.


Thus, The Perfect Sleep is more interested in building its labyrinthine puzzle with zero regard for logic or ensuring the audience will be able to find their way through the obstacle heavy maze, let alone actually worrying about whether or not we care about those involved in the drama.


Throughout it's filled with tongue-in-cheek ironic homage (or is it satire?) of the noir genre it pledges to love. Structured like it's the Bard's take of an Arthurian legend-- writer Anton Pardoe (who also stars as the unnamed narrator inexplicably dubbed "The Mad Monk") and director Jeremy Atler craft a gorgeously stylized and overwhelmingly disastrous yet well-intentioned mess via their bizarre polygamous marriage of the following: Sam Spade, Luc Besson, William Shakespeare, The Coen Brothers, The Polish Brothers, The Brothers Grimm, The Wachowski Brothers, Phillip Marlowe, Albert Camus, Michelangelo Antonioni, Claude Chabrol, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, David Cronenberg, David Lynch, David Fincher, Sigmund Freud, Luis Bunuel, Humphrey Bogart, Oscar Wilde, John Woo, Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, and Christopher Nolan... just to name a few references that catch the eye and ear of the observer within twenty minutes.

While the plot-line is so convoluted and inexplicable, there's no way I can even manage to boil it down without the aid of CliffsNotes, the screenplay, access to the filmmakers, and more bandwidth-- essentially it centers on a man who returns "out of the past" after an absence of a decade.

Fond of staring at windmills for no particular reason other than-- like everything else in the movie-- it provides memorable eye candy for cinematographer Charles Papert, we learn that our protagonist is our overly chatty narrator Pardoe.


While he rarely speaks to the characters onscreen-- he's a psychoanalyst's dream for his obsessive aversion to silence. Thus he assists in establishing the film's alienating atmosphere with off-putting and awkward narration that's nearly entirely filled with self-aware descriptions that filter Mike Hammer through William Shakespeare along with what I'm assuming he felt he hoped were jokes as in "Like Winston Churchill told me," and near-filmmaker commentary as he acknowledges a cliche but points out that the given imagery is dug by the French and shares that he digs "the French" as well.


Forever attacked by henchmen and left for dead-- bleeding profusely throughout the gory film-- we're not really sure why the narrator would give up the windmills for endless beatings but learn that ultimately his goal is to both seek revenge against a man who may very well be his father and save the life of his "princess" Porphyria (a luminous Roselyn Sanchez given little to do but pose lifelessly in clinging gowns like Gene Tierney's portrait that captivates Dana Andrews in Preminger's Laura).




Fleshing out the overcrowded noir terrain with familiar plot-lines about love triangles and missed opportunities-- Pardoe seasons the script with strange characters like a sadistic doctor who feels like an individual left on the cutting room floor of Sin City, a tough guy cop who has a thing for dames that look like Veronica Lake in The Blue Dahlia and The Glass Key, and several other "types" divided into various groups and alliances in a Guy Ritchie fashion.




In order to try and develop some basic sense of the story, the narrator attempts to fill in the lines with a bizarre back-story fixating on a king and a maharaja whose children all have chips on their shoulders about their relatives' less than natural deaths and questions about their paternity.



Yet, mostly I gave up trying to follow along and instead gave into the atmospheric approach-- helplessly numb as the film continued with delusions of grandeur like a non-musical opera that makes you wonder how on Earth the cast and crew were able to get through the shoot without cracking up (both into laughter or simply out of frustration) by just how completely wooden and plodding the film was as a whole.



While I'm always attracted to exploring the latest from the noir genre and Magnolia Films is one of my all-time favorite independent distributors for their bravery in backing unconventional works (as this one is released under their "Magnet" label), honestly I have no idea how it gained financing in the first place except for the fact that perhaps-- blinded by the shiny Rubick's Cube puzzle and admiration for the genre-- nobody wanted to admit that they had absolutely no idea what Pardoe and Alter's work was really about.


And it's certainly visually stunning aside from the loads of violence that fill the frame as the gore is nearly as plentiful as the amounts of homage and references to classic literature throughout.

While no doubt it may have been much more successful given a complete rewrite of the script-- more often than not as we witnessed another monologue following a kung fu smack-down that found our narrator left for dead-- the words of Eva Mendes from the disastrous Frank Miller effort The Spirit filled my head as I wanted to advise him to just "shut up and bleed" already... or at least go back to look at those damn windmills.