Director Jan Kounen's vision of a mystical Western makes 'Blueberry' one of those rare exploratory movies that defy categorization. At the screening I attended, half of the audience, not too large to begin with, left before the movie reached its overlong conclusion which featured visuals that challenge rational explanation. An uneven mix of some of the most aesthetic sequences put to screen this year but with a tale that lacks coherence and spirals deeper into senselessness, the end result is an admirable failure.
Vincent Cassel plays Mike Blueberry, a Cajun who makes his way to the town of Palomito. As a youth he is smitten by the charms of a whore, but she is killed in an encounter with Wally (Michael Madsen), a crazed lunatic. Mike is left severely injured in the fiery tussle but lives thanks to the medicinal assistance of a Shaman from a Red Indian tribe, where he befriends Runi (Temuera Morrison) as a brother. An adult Mike is somehow found fitting enough to become town Marshal (this angle is largely left unexplained), backed by a crippled Sheriff (Ernest Borgnine, making a rare screen appearance). Fresh trouble strikes town in the form of Woodhead (a terribly wasted Djimon Hounsou) and Prosit (Eddie Izzard) a pair of gold diggers, who bring in their trail the return of Wally. Eagles soar, barrels unload, tumbleweeds twirl – all expected traits of the typical Western done marvellously well. What isn't expected however is experimentation with hallucinatory drugs and a supernatural element provided by the Shaman Indians, who push the proceedings into unchartered territory. There is a romance that's incomplete, a mystery largely unexplored and a script that severely overstays its initial interesting welcome.
The production is surely one of the most cosmopolitan ever. Budgeted at close to $ 45 million, Blueberry, directed by a Dane, starring mostly American, French and British actors along with an African and even a Maori, and set in post civil war USA, is one of the most expensive French movies ever. A commercial failure in its native France, it is set for a DVD release in the US next month, where it has been deemed unworthy of a wide cinema release. But the facts certainly work against it, for Blueberry while heavily flawed and lacking in pure entertainment value, certainly offers more and that too decidedly differently, than most conventional releases each week.
It shouldn't sound too unusual to learn about a French Western; after all, Italian director Sergio Leone's 'Dollars trilogy' is widely regarded as a masterpiece of the genre and rightly so. Despite the sparingly interesting script, the exploration of the afterlife, via the dance with death in the final segment featuring wild trailing lights, tentacles, dragons and snakes is indescribably beautiful. Your mind succumbs to its passive hypnoticism and leaves you transfixed. I'm still not sure what it meant to convey, and even though the overall result reeks of wasted potential, the film remains recommendable for those who like to experiment with wildly unusual movies that defy genre convention and offer fabulous eye candy at the same time. - Faizan Rashid