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Mr. Nobody

Entry updated 2 February 2017. Tagged: Film.

Film (2009). Pan-Européenne in association with Virtual Films and Pathé. Written and directed by Jaco van Dormael. Cast includes Rhys Ifans, Diane Kruger, Jared Leto, Natasha Little, Linh Dan Pham, Sarah Polley, Toby Regbo and Juno Temple. Theatrical cut 137 minutes; director's cut 156 minutes. Colour.

In 2092, when "telomerization" has otherwise arrested ageing and rendered humanity immortal (see Immortality), the last remaining old-style human to die of old age is the enigmatic 118-year-old Nemo Nobody, who is able to remember not only bidirectionally in longitudinal Time, but also latitudinally across multiple lives (and deaths) branching from eight key nodes of decision in his personal timeline, some of which reconverge on a variously fateful tourist trip to Mars to scatter the ashes of one of his three alternate wives.

Ten years in the making and the most expensive Belgian film ever made, this defiantly nonlinear extravaganza from the highly regarded director of Toto le héros (1991) was all but dumped by its distributors, forcibly cut for theatrical release in the few territories where it screened at all, and has yet to be released in any form in the US. Brilliantly mounted and assembled, if unevenly played – aside from Polley's scenery-chewing turn as a depressive spouse, the younger cast upstage their adult versions – it nevertheless rises above the inadequately chameleonic Leto's lead performance and an intellectually flaccid resolution (where the mystery of Nemo's condition is bathetically disambiguated). In a serious and beguiling attempt to turn cinema narrative against itself and assert the contingency of life in Time, the forking paths of Nemo's romantic life are told and partly experienced as Time Out of Sequence, in fragments remembered by the dying future Nemo but sometimes also remembered forwards from earlier in his youth, and playing out in Parallel Worlds as a series of colour-coded Alternate Histories which continue to interact with one another after they pull apart. Nemo's consciousness traverses his timelines like a maze-solving algorithm, at various points rewinding Time in Reverse or communicating with his younger self via a DVD Time Radio, in search of a survivable future with his true love Anna (Temple/Kruger). Paths cross, the same events play out in different ways, and what is real in one timeline is part-remembered as a dream, a momentary perplexity, or a work of science fiction in another; one unused scene discovered Jean-Claude van Damme working in a carwash, his acting career in that timeline having failed to ignite. Virtually unseen on release, the film has grown a considerable (if mixed) reputation since, and is something of a summa of cinematic games with narrative time. Running times vary among the versions released in different (and sometimes the same) territories; the full version is available only on Blu-Ray, and is shortened by varying amounts in DVD and streaming versions. [NL]


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