Renegade review

:. Director: Jan Kounen
:. Starring: Vincent Cassel, Michael Madsen
:. Running Time: 2:02
:. Year: 2003
:. Country: France


Blueberry is the adaptation of a French Western comic by Charlier and Giraud—a.k.a. Sci-fi guru Moebus who designed Alien. The title character, played here by Vincent Cassel (Irreversible, Brotherhood of the Wolf review), is an ex-cavalry officer who's now a US Marshall in a small town. The film, which centers around the search for a treasure and the universal theme of revenge, is loosely based on a couple of volumes of the series, la Mine de l'Allemand perdu and Spectre aux balles d'or.

The idea of a French western might of course make some people smile, but Blueberry isn't any less relevant than any Euro—or spaghetti—westerns, which revolutionized the genre back in the 70's. As the film opens with some impressive aerial and wide angle shots, it is obvious that director Jan Kounen, the author of the controversial and misunderstood Doberman—another target of the lynch mob mentality of the French press— knew his handicap as a Frenchman taking the reins of a western.

While his camera approaches the landscape—desert, mountains, rivers—with grandeur, the multiplication of these cutaway shots ad infinitum ends up over-killing its impact. It's like Kounen tries to prove to us that Blueberry is a real and authentic western; the film features all the ingredients of the genre, including the typical one-street town with its saloon and brothel, a couple of gunfights and a chase between cowboys and Indians. But here is where it gets tricky: Blueberry isn't actually a real western. What had started as the adaptation of a comic book turned into a spiritual journey after the filmmaker met with some real Indian shamans who initiated him into their rituals. As a result, Blueberry has become a work in mutation, an experience that gets channeled from Kounen to his title character played by Cassel. Voluntarily or not, all the clichés to which we were exposed at the beginning can now be seen as necessary parts of the deconstruction of a western—which is what Blueberry really is.

The search for the treasure, which is reminiscent of adventure pictures such as Indiana Jones, Alan Quattermain and the Mummy, is actually a metaphor for Blueberry's spiritual journey. The film takes the side of the Indians but, unlike Dance with the Wolves, it doesn't have these self-serving and postcard-like exotic tones, but instead the naïveté and passion of the newly converted.

What makes Blueberry a unique and worthy western entry is not only its deconstructive aspect but how it twists two emblematic roots of the genre, revenge and duels. Just like in Irreversible, another misunderstood picture with Cassel, the character's motivations—and the means to achieve them—are shown as wrong as they are built on deceptive facts. As for the dual, the usual crescendo of the genre, it won't happen in the middle of a street with two guns pointing at each other, but inside their own brains through a mystical and psychedelic battle. The film ends with Cassel and Juliette Lewis swimming naked, including a shot of the actress's crotch. Kounen is a well-known provocateur and it's certain he enjoyed pushing the envelope one more time at the end of his film. But after Blueberry's acid-like trip, it can also be compared to Courbet's painting, L'origine du Monde, as a metaphor for life and, more particularly, for the rebirth of the character.

As ambitious and original the film is, it is however a heavily flawed piece. Kounen isn't able to develop his characters who walk, almost transparently, through the movie, including Blueberry-Cassel who isn't given enough thickness to have the charisma necessary to lead the picture nor the audience. The movie is wrapped in a cinematography too glossy for its own good at times, but the real killer is a narrative fragmented and inconclusive—a result of Kounen's unfocused direction. The spiritual and psychedelic sequences, which are the epicenter of the picture, were done in CGI. There are two of them and the final one is certainly effective as spectators will leave the screening drugged from the succession of kinetic images. The first sequence looks however, afterwards, redundant and both scenes, as well as all the landscape/nature shots should have been fairly reduced to amputate the film of at least 30 unnecessary minutes. But despite all of its flaws, Blueberry is certainly worth the trip.

  Fred Thom

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