Starring: Javier Bardem. Elle Fanning, Laura Linney, Salma Hayek
Directed by Sally Potter
The Spanish Javier Bardem is among the most influential actors of contemporary times. He can make the most complex of characters look effortless on screen because he doesn’t ACT. He just IS.
This holds true of his latest work, a deeply disturbing if somewhat scattered and sketchy, portrait of a mind on the verge of destruction. Javier is so credible as Leo a writer who has lost the plot, that at several points in the dispassionately poignant story, I found myself flinching away from the actor’s disorienting portrayal of abject disorientation, a condition so isolating that only Leo’s daughter is willing to live with it.
More than a story of a mind that’s gone into disintegration this is a story of a daughter who struggles to penetrate the fog around her father’s mind. It is the film’s good fortune to have the astonishing Elle Fanning to play Bardem’s frazzled daughter, trying hard to balance her job with her father’s deteriorating mental health.
The film is set in New York and follows the father and daughter through one day on the streets as she gets his teeth and eyes and clothes attended to.
“Perhaps it was too much for one day,” the daughter says at the end. And I wondered if she was referring to the film which is crammed with a number of flashbacks of images flashing in Leo’s head…a past marriage to a Mexican woman played by, who else, Salma Hayek, their shared bereavement. A visit to Greece where Leo stalks two young women….Do these images actually add up to a substantial view into a mind that’s locked itself away from the outside world? Not quite.
The film’s power comes from a raw and impassioned look at its the protagonist’s wandering mind and body. My most unforgettable moment in the film occurs when Leo wanders bare feet out into the streets of NY at night and encounters two kind young impoverished migrants who sit him down gently, and put his feet in water.
I immediately recalled an earlier scene in a high-end clothes store where a salesman shouts at Leo, ‘Bloody foreigners. Go back to your country.’ During these stressful times a bit of kindness from strangers seems just what the doctors prescribed.