Screened at film festivals in Venice and Toronto in 2001, DUST
received a belated American release. This oddball motion picture slipped
quietly into one movie theater in New York City, ostensibly on its way
to a DVD release. It's quite a shame that Lions Gate had such little faith
in this film, although I can easily see how they could feel it would be a
hard sell. Undoubtedly some of the bad reviews it received elsewhere in
the world didn't help either (reportedly in England it set the record for
most walkouts at one theater). Well, I've always said that my tastes
in films tend to run counter the mainstream, so I guess I may be one
of the few people in the world who appreciated this epic drama.
Not unlike director Micho Manchevski's Academy Award-nominated
BEFORE THE RAIN, DUST has a circuitous plot that requires the
audience's attention. Unlike so much of Hollywood's pabulum, this
drama engages the mind. In some ways, it reminded me of Atom Egoyan's
ARARAT, another movie that many dismissed but which I found deeply
DUST takes the form of a tale told, in this case by a sickly, elderly
woman (Rosemary Murphy) who surprises a burglar (Adrian Lester) and
holds him at bay with an ancient gun. She forces him to listen to her
story about two brothers whose photos are scattered about her
apartment. Luke (David Wenham) and Elijah (Joseph Fiennes) couldn't
have been more different. Luke was a hot-tempered, whoring gunslinger
while Elijah was a shy, Bible-quoting virgin. Luke escorts Elijah to a
whorehouse where they both become intrigued by a Frenchwoman
named Lilith (Anne Brochet).
After a struggle over who gets to bed her, Elijah emerges
triumphant ... and promptly falls in love. The pair marry, despite
Luke's clear attraction to his brother's wife. After seducing and
abandoning Lilith, Luke heads to Europe. In Paris, he sees a silent film
about the Macedonian revolution and is intrigued by the bounty placed
on the head of its leader (Vlado Jovanovski). Determined to earn the
reward and convinced that Macedonia would be like the American west,
this cowboy heads off into a land of complicated relationships, where
warlords rule and the Ottomans were attempting to quell any dissent.
While in this foreign land, he is located by his brother who wounds him
Escaping from the Ottomans, Luke finds refuge with Neda (Nikolina
Kojaca), a pregnant woman in a remote village to whom he becomes to be
drawn. After discovering the identity of her husband, things become even
Switching back to contemporary New York, Angela, the elderly
woman, suffers a near fatal heart attack and the burglar Edge gets her
to the hospital determined to locate her stash of gold. He needs the
money to pay off a pair of crooked cops (Matt Ross and Meg Gibson),
so Edge develops a keen interest in Angela's tale. The burglar visits
her in the hospital and attempts various means to get her divulge
the location of the gold.
Manchevski's major theme in the film (which some have cynically
dubbed ONCE UPON A TIME IN MACEDONIA, as an homage to Sergio
Leone) is oral history. Being told from memory, a tale is fractured,
circular and sometimes unbelievable, hence the somewhat disjointed
screenplay. Angela even acknowledges this when she embellishes on
a point she already made. The first version has Luke confronting an
army of twenty; in the second telling the number jumps to two hundred.
When Edge calls her on it, she points out that she's the author of the
story and whether it was twenty or two hundred is a minor point.
The cast is something of a mixed bag. Neither of the females in
the story have much to do, so Brochet and Kojaca don't really register.
Although top billed, Joseph Fiennes has little to do and he makes little
impact as the pious Elijah. Indeed, it's David Wenham's show, and this
Australian actor once again proves his amazing range. Even with minimal
dialogue, he captures the audience's attention and commands the screen.
Adrian Lester has his moments as Edge, who appears to be less street
smart than he projects. Besides Wenham, the acting honors have to go
to Rosemary Murphy, an underutilized and underappreciated stage and
screen actress. I recall fondly many of this actress' roles, including her
astringent appearance as Dorothy Parker in JULIA (1977) and as Sara
Delano Roosevelt in TV's "Eleanor and Franklin".
A richly shot and beautifully designed film, DUST raises the issue
of who gets to tell personal histories. While there may be photographs
and other memorabilia left behind, unless someone can tell the stories
behind them, they lose some of their meaning. In trying to enlighten
the world about a time in his country's past, Manchevski shows that
the importance of history and the uses of art to tell those tales.
MPAA Rating: R for sequences of strong violence,
sexual content and language
Running time: 122 mins.
Viewed at AMC Empire 25
|© 2008 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.