Remember that one time when you had to make a gut-wrenching decision? Sure you do. How you carefully thought of the possibilities and their countless consequences? Did you go through all the possible scenarios in your head? If so, then feel free to welcome Mr. Nobody, the brand new film by Jaco van Dormael.
If you’ve ever felt like everyone else in the world is more prolific than you, then Jaco is also there to make you feel better: after his 1991 debut film Toto le Héros, van Dormael made Le Huitième Jour in 1996 and… erm no, that’s it. Yes, van Dormael spent thirteen years coming up with a new film, giving the expression “the difficult third release” a completely new meaning. Mind you, he wasn’t slacking, he just carefully crafted all the pieces of what would ultimately become Mr. Nobody.
It almost makes you scared to ask: so, any good? Not only because of the long labour, but also because Mr. Nobody seems to profile itself as the most ambitious film ever, the movie version of Tristram Shandy. Who is Mr. Nobody, you may ask. Well, a weirdly painted Dr. Feldheim has exactly the same question. “I’m Nemo Nobody,” the protagonist replies, “I was born in 1975, I’m 34 years old.” Sounds logical, apart from the fact that Nemo looks closer to 115 years old. Confronted by a mirror, Nemo is scared of his own appearance and that’s the start of a rollercoaster ride, which takes us from 1975 all the way to 2092. To and fro. All the time. No holds barred. Mainly focusing on a couple of years (let’s roughly say: Nemo is often aged 9, 15, 34 and 117), we see Nemo leading his life… or rather: Nemo leading his lives.
You see, our lives are led by the decisions we make. Shall we do A or B? We decide, A or B, and move on. But not Nemo. Nemo’s life becomes Nemo’s lives because Nemo doesn’t choose between A or B. And because A will lead to X, Y and Z whereas B will lead to 1, 2 or 3, the moviegoer is subjected to what could be A, X, Y, A, Z, B, 1, 3, A, Z and Q. Because some things just don’t seem to make sense at all: suddenly Nemo is on a mission to Mars. But fear not, somewhere in one of his lives there is a reason which explains Nemo’s adventure in space.
And wheras this may seem outlandishly confusing if you read this review (or start watching the film), van Dormael succeeds in making this feel like the most normal thing in the world. Nemo wakes up, says the wrong name to his wife and child and suddenly he is somewhere else, not in his kitchen but at a pool, talking to another child (but one which does have the name he’d given to the other boy) and with another wife. What is going on? It seems as if the film is the rambling of an old man, the oldest (natural) man alive in 2092, who has trouble recollecting his past. But then you’re wrong. So wrong.
Essential people in Nemo’s life, apart from the doctor in 2092, are Nemo’s parents and three girls on a bench. They’ll play a big part in Nemo’s different lives, fantasies of what could’ve been, what maybe was and – why not – what may have collided. Just like some things seem be motives too: water and vases to give two examples. Of course this means that van Dormael, writer and director of Mr. Nobody, can come up with countless scenarios. Which is why this film could have been anything from 10 minutes to 10 hours. In the end, van Dormael seems to have thought 138 minutes was the ultimate cut for this film. Personally I would’ve knocked 15 to 20 minutes off, though I’m not sure why and I’m not sure which scenes would have to go. It’s not like some will make more sense than other, no scene is more than a variation or elaboration of another scene. I can only describe how I felt during the film: I sat down, let the film lead me, liked it more and more, slowly had the glowing feeling this could be the best film I’d seen in a long time, before getting some fatigue, which ultimately led to another high. As I said earlier, the film is a rollercoaster and not just in time.
The adult versions of Nemo are played by Jared Leto, who finds himself surrounded by a great cast, including Sarah Polley, Diane Kruger, Linh Dan Pham, Rhys Ifans, Natasha Little, Toby Regbo, Juno Temple, Clare Stone, Thomas Byrne, Audrey Giacomini, Laura Brumagne, Allan Corduner and Daniel Mays (don’t make me say who’s who). The final credits also mention the actors and actresses whose scenes had been cut, which give you the feeling van Dormael might have been able to stretch this film well over three hours. It’s a good thing he didn’t. But is his cut the ultimate cut? We’ll probably never know (apart from him being the director and we just the viewers). All we know is that this film fucks with your head, that it’s the ultimate ode to not wanting to choose (now this is a romantic movie) and that, while watching the film, I often had the urge to go and see it again, preferably the very next day.
If you like your films realistic and linear, stay away from this one. If not, give it a go. It’s often said about films when it’s not true, but it’s true for this one: it’s unlike any other movie. Enjoy.