Caveman\'s Valentine, The (2001) **
Directed by Kasi Lemmons. Written by George Dawes Green, from his novel. Photography, Amelia Vincent. Music,Terence Blanchard. Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Ann Magnuson, Aunjanue Ellis, Tamara Tunie, Anthony Michael Hall, Colm Feore, et al. Produced by Elie Samaha, Andrew Stevens, Stacey Sher, Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg, Scott Frank. A Universal Focus release. 105 minutes. R (language, violence, sex) The New Art Theater.
An oddity. This means that I can tell my readers neither "see it" nor "skip it." Too much depends upon viewers' predilections and curiosity about non-mainstream cinema.
Samuel L. Jackson's persona is the overwhelming center and focus of this movie. He is Romulus, a street person who also lives in a sort of cave in a New York park. His dreadlocks are so long that they could be mythological snakes. Or tentacles. Or at least ropes. In any case they could the Golden Prize at an Special Hairdo Competition. Romulus is a character very different from any vagrant - or for that matter, no-vagrant- we have seen in the movies or in real life. He turns out to have studied at New York's world-famous Juilliard School for the Performing Arts, where he was a superior pianist and composer. But he succumbed to schizophrenia, and became an oddity, a man who could be out of his mind now, razor-sharp logical later, and even both at the same time.
Is this the price of genius? Reminds me of an old aunt who used to say that too much thinking is bad for the brain. Romulus has visions, daymares and nightmares. He fears an imaginary Very Bad Fellow who can destroy people and things at will, and who lives someplace high up on the Chrysler Building.
The movie's director made her applauded debut a few years back with "Eve's Bayou, which also shot by very talented Amelia Vincent. Without getting into details I'll mention a few items.
Into this state of things come at the very least two new elements. Romulus is identified by a compassionate lawyer who helps him in small and big ways, and gives him proper clothes to attend an artistic reunion on an estate. At the same time Romulus, who has discovered outside his cave the frozen corpse of a young man --a street-person and friend--suspects it was a murder. The police don't buy this, but Romulus sleuths, partly to redeem himself (why is unclear) in the eyes of his daughter, who is a cop. The part is at the estate of a famous photographer, genus Mapplethorpe -- and very preoccupied with death themes -- for whom the dead boy had often modeled. He becomes Romulus's prime suspect. And Romulus becomes both the hunter and the hunted.
There are several weird scenes and sequences, plus situations that catch the eye, whether they consist of what's inside Rhombus's head (visions, hallucinations, suggestions, allusions and such). The photography by Amelia Vincent is certainly original, imaginative and impressive.
As a whole, the film is an audacious and ambitious undertaking. But there is an excess of speaking in codes, suggestions, allusions, subjectivity, flashbacks and red herrings. "Less is more" was the Bauhaus slogan. Oddly, "More is more," and boxes within boxes, does work sometimes. Still, the plot and visual incontinence of this picture work against it. Anything goes, it seems, and this leads to incoherences, confusions, arbitrariness.
Surrealism abounds, but then, had the great-great-granddaddy of surrealist film, Bunuel's and Dali's " An Andalusian Dog" (29 minutes, 1929) not been humorously and voluntarily logic-defying, and had it lasted 105 minutes, it would never had become a classic, and, mind you, one accepted in cinephile circles long after its premiere.
Jackson's role is extremely hard, and then some. His amazing performance, a major tour-de-force, may well justify watching this movie.
Worth pondering is the fact that in the USA, even in a maverick independent movie that deals with mental disorders, we get killings and detection. Hollywood's tentacles do go far.