Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tucci Remakes Van Gogh: Blind Date

Dutch director Theo Van Gogh was in the early planning stages of an English language remake of his acclaimed film Interview when an Islamist’s bullet cut short his life. He had dared to suggest Islamic fundamentalism was less than tolerate of homosexuality in his short film Submission Part 1, sadly proving the basic point with his life. In the wake of his death, Van Gogh’s producers set out to adapt not one but three of his films with American actors. Following Steve Buscemi’s remake of Interview, Stanley Tucci’s Blind Date (trailer here), the second film of the so-called “Triple Theo” project, opens in New York this Friday.

Though like Interview, Date has no clear political implications, as an intimate examination of the painful grief of two parents, in some sense it is an appropriate choice of film to adapt in Van Gogh’s memory. A man and a woman meet in a bar. They pretend not to know each other, but they have years of history together, some of which is quite painful. When Don and Janna’s young daughter died, it tore their lives apart. Now the only way they can relate to each other is through play-acting on staged blind dates. Finding it too painful to stay together, but loving each too much to stay apart, their “dates” become unhealthy rituals for the damaged couple.

In truth, anyone who has recently suffered a deeply felt loss is strongly cautioned not to see this film. While it is in many ways a compassionate, humanistic film, it offers no cathartic relief or comfort. Frankly, Don and Janna’s game-playing is most likely making things worse rather than better, but they simply do not have any other ideas of how to carry on.

The dilapidated nightclub (designed by Loren Weeks) in which they meet night after night is a fitting scene of faded glory that reinforces the overall mood of loss and regret. Tucci also filmed Date using Van Gogh’s three camera technique, keeping two dedicated cameras focused on the primary leads as the third framed the couple together. Indeed, Don and Janna’s scenes together are uncomfortably intimate, but the narration by the couple’s deceased daughter and strange interludes of Don performing his comedic magic act are self-consciously cinematic distractions.

In truth, these strange interludes help establish Don’s Chaplinesque qualities. He is definitely a crying on the inside (and sometimes outside) kind of clown. Frankly, both Tucci and Patricia Clarkson are frighteningly good as the heartsick parents. Their pain and humanity (messy as it might be) seem absolutely credible in Date, despite the film’s occasionally odd stylistic flourishes.

After screening Date, it is difficult to get it out of one’s head. Date is distinguished by two truly excellent lead performances, but they come in service of one of the saddest films audiences are likely on screens this year. It opens Friday (9/25) at Cinema Village.