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Thursday, April 26, 2007

TIDELAND (2005) - Terry Gilliam

Poor old Terry Gilliam. If there's one director in the industry who just cannot catch a break, it's him. Constant battles with studios, films getting critically panned, even a feature cancelled mid-production. Gilliam doesn't have it easy. In 2005, he released Tideland, his most critically attacked and poorly received film to date. Is this because this film is as anti-Hollywood as you can get? Or is it just a horrible piece of work?
Jeliza-Rose is the 10 year old daughter of a junkie musician, Noah (Jeff Bridges) and his junkie wife (Jennifer Tilly). When not cooking up heroin for her father, she's looking after her mother. When her mother dies, Noah takes Jeliza-Rose back to his childhood home on the prairie. There, Jeliza-Rose is isolated from almost all human contact except for a lobotomised epileptic by the name of Dickens and his older, psychotic taxidermist sister, Dell. Jeliza-Rose's behavior becomes increasingly erratic as she retreats into her own fantasy world inhabited by the voices of her four disembodied doll's heads.

As you can well imagine, this film is a hard sell. Gilliam himself appears before the movie and warns us that many viewers will hate the movie. It's not surprising that he offers this caveat, as Tideland is a very strange, dark but comic film about a twisted, horrible series of events seen through the innocent eyes of a ten year old girl. There are undertones of paedophelia and necrophelia that run through certain parts of the film, and while these tones are seriously played down by Gilliam, it will leave some viewers feeling slightly uncomfortable.
However, Tideland is yet another brilliantly crafted film from Gilliam. He is one of the most unique directors working today, and Tideland is just further proof of his talent. Despite the obvious dark subject matter, Gilliam manages to create a brilliantly twisted, yet somewhat light-hearted world that echoes the style he has shown in his previous films. Gilliam himself described the film as Alice in Wonderland meets Psycho, but there are also echoes of Terrence Mallick's Days of Heaven, and even Andrew Wyeth's painting, Christina's World thrown in for good measure. Special mention must be made of Jodelle Ferland's performance in the central role of Jeliza-Rose. She is the gateway into her fantasy world, and her performance is fantastic. Despite the horrible events Jeliza-Rose witnesses, Ferland portrays her innocent character with enthusiasm and a massive amount of energy.

Tideland is possibly one of the hardest films you'll ever try to sell to someone. I can say without a doubt, the average Joe Popcorn will hate this film. But for fans of Gilliam's work (Brazil, Twelve Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) it is another fantastic work of art. Criminally underrated? Yes. But understandably so too.

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