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Harebrained 'Brown Bunny'

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 10, 2004; Page C01

Some people have called Vincent Gallo's "The Brown Bunny" the worst movie ever entered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was booed. I quarrel with that: not the "worst" part but the "movie" part.

It's not really a movie. I suppose it's what could be called a recorded behavior. It simply reproduces, with some crude fidelity, the hapless anguish of a grieving man as he copes with his loss. It has no characters, it has no conflict, it has nothing that could be called a plot. It offers no reason to watch it -- that is, no reason within the picture. If you watch it, you'll stick through to the bitter end not because of anything it offers you, but because you know from press reports and publicity that something unusual happens at the end, something never seen anywhere before, oh, except on a mere hundred million odd television screens wherever men or boys tuck a porno vid into the gizmo and punch Play.


Vincent Gallo directed and stars in the film Cannes hated. (Courtesy Of Wellspring)

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Some have called it a vanity project, in that it stars Gallo, it was directed, produced, edited and, I suppose, "written" by him, and he is in 99 percent of it. But it's not vanity in the customary meaning of that word: His beauty -- a kind of bruised New York radiance set off by greasy hair that somehow calls up the Warhol scene -- is not a part of the proceedings. When you watch a Tom Cruise or a Richard Gere or similarly beautiful men on screen, they're always backlit, posed ripped, shot in their best angle, brilliantly made up and art-designed, even when supposedly in grubby circumstances. Their beauty is the professional subtext of the enterprise, guaranteed by the best mechanics in the biz. That would be vanity, that insistence on film technique to sustain beauty. You can't tell if Gallo is beautiful; he's hardly in frickin' focus!

He just sort of wanders dissociatively into and out of the frame; it cuts off his head there, his chin here, sometimes the left side of his body. Memo to cameraman: Wake up! Look through the viewfinder occasionally. Focus: Usually it's a ring on the lens that can be doodled a little.

Likewise, the scenes all lack the other sort of focus. They sort of happen, improvised clumsily, in dreary circumstances, always in but one note, which might be called high art film self-pity. The French, they knew how to do this. M. Gallo, he does not. He stops in his slow drive cross-country -- I think the movie proves time is relative, as a slow drive across the country would seem much faster -- stopping here or there to talk in grunts and blurts to pitiful women on the street, somehow manipulating them into a cuddle and a hug, and then, weeping and leaking snot from the schnoz, he flees.

The back story is rudimentary: Motorcycle racer Bud Clay (Gallo) is in extremis for a reason arbitrarily withheld from us. He travels from a race in New Hampshire to California, his home. The camera loves to peer at reality through the bug-spattered windshield of his van. He stops in the desert for a brief ride on the bike. Then, in California he encounters the truth.

Some truth. The mechanism by which All Is Explained is more dramatically trivial than even the most primitive "Twilight Zone" episode: It's the simple flashback by which, at the appropriate time, It All Comes Flooding Back.

The big news is that this version is 30 minutes shorter than the version that was booed at Cannes. As Dorothy Parker said upon learning of the death of Calvin Coolidge, "How could they tell?" Nothing happened to begin with. Now slightly less nothing happens.

The peculiar title refers to a series of bunny images Gallo fixates on during the film; but more generally it's his view of the character he's playing, a kind of sad, cuddly, passive fellow with big brown eyes and a sense of wounded softness quivering in the grass.

As for the climactic event, I cannot begin to describe it and can only say that it's quite commonplace. The big news is that it is performed by a major actress -- Chloe Sevigny -- presumably under the assurance that she was making a major contribution to Western civilization. Alas, too many people will see "The Brown Bunny" because she was making a major contribution to Western pornography.

The Brown Bunny (93 minutes at Visions Bar Noir) is not rated; it includes an explicit sex act.


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