Monday, 30 November 2009

Monday Night Film Club - Bunny and the Bull (and one exceptional film)

Last week I we saw the trailer for Bunny and the Bull and my overriding reaction was: hmmmm. This was a film I was in no hurry to see. Of course, one of the joys of Monday Night Film Club is that it means I go to see things I wouldn't otherwise bother with. Sometimes that can be bad, other times it can be exceptional. This falls into the latter category.

On a basic level, it is a road movie, though to call it that would be a bit like saying Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a martial arts movie or that Blade Runner has lots of robots in it: it would completely miss the point. Partly, this is because for the duration of the film Stephen, superbly and sensitively played by Edward Hogg, barely steps outside his house. Instead, though flashback, we get a journey as much through his mind as through Europe.

As the film opens, the camera winds its way through the house, credits appearing on household items such as the old fashioned rotary dial of the telephone, the tube of toothpaste, the paste itself writing in the sink, and so on. This meticulous attention to detail carries through the film as we meet Stephen, an obsessive-compulsive agoraphobic who between filing his dental floss and eating the same vegetable lasagne for lunch each day has hid himself from the world.

It is one year since he has ventured outside, and suddenly his neatly ordered life comes crashing down as he discovers the mice have been at the whole of his stock of ready meals. This launches a voyage through the mementos of his European tour with his friend Bunny (and equally superb Simon Farnaby). On one level, it's somewhat unclear how two such different people have come to be such close friends; on another, their relationship never feels unnatural.

The moment the narrative ventures outside the house, we leave any semblance of the ordinary. Instead, our characters inhabit animated or almost cardboard like sets, giving the film a magically surreal quality not a million miles away from the likes of Gilliam, Kaufman or Burton.

Gradually, we learn why Stephen is now a prisoner of his own mind. Writer and director Paul King expertly dips in and out of flashbacks, using a snowdome to transport the viewer to a mountaintop Swiss chalet, taking us to a fairground inside the mechanism of a clock. At times the transitions from the house to the recollections call to mind Joel tumbling through his memories in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or the dream sequences that make up perhaps my favourite episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Restless, the season four finale). Similarly he knows how to hold onto an exquisite moment, such as when Stephen nearly kisses Eloisa (a fine performance by Veronica Echegui) in an archway in some unnamed and unidentifiable Spanish town. It is simply a wonder to look at.

I don't want to say any more about the plot than I have, it really isn't easy to explain; it's the sort of film you just have to see. However, don't be thinking it's simply a heartfelt and poignant journey, though it certainly is; and though it may bring a tear to your eye, it is also funny, so much so that if you were sticking on labels, the comedy one would have to be affixed and feature big bold type. It is hysterically funny at times, such as when Bunny begs Stephen for some underwear, Stephen's elaborate cocktails, or the argument in the car.

There really is nothing I can fault the film on. Perhaps one or two moments edge a little closer to gross-out comedy than I would like, the scene with the dogs, for example. However, such moments are generally so hilarious it's hard to see them as a flaw. There isn't a duff performance to be seen on the screen and there's a great soundtrack too, accentuating the moods well, but never outshining the film. They also know when no sound at all is needed. In a wonderfully powerful moment towards the end, the only sound was the whirr of the projector, reminding one that the Cameo is a proper cinema.

In short, this is a truly exceptional film, one of the finest I've seen this year, and I really can't recommend it highly enough. So what put me off initially? Well, Paul King is also the director of The Mighty Boosh, and what little I've seen of that has left me no desire to see more. Now I'm wondering if it deserves a proper viewing.

One final word - stay to the end of the credits - the final dedication is well worth the wait.


Update:

Actually, a final, final word is needed. A film this fine deserves one of our irregular awards. So, without further ado, I present:

The Paul King Award for a Stunning, Meticulously Crafted, Poignant and Hilarious Odyssey through the Imagination

Thinking about it, Joss Whedon deserves this award for Restless, so too do Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

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