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Overall Rating

Awesome: 14.29%
Worth A Look48.57%
Average: 5.71%
Pretty Bad: 22.86%
Total Crap: 8.57%

3 reviews, 17 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"A Truly Grim Fairy Tale From Terry Gilliam"
4 stars

For years, fans of visionary filmmaker Terry Gilliam have wished that he would get the chance to once again make a film entirely on his own terms that wasn’t compromised by the financial pressures or studio interference that he has had to battle against throughout his career (most recently in the deeply-flawed-but-intriguing “The Brothers Grimm”). With “Tideland,” he has given those people exactly that–the kind of small-scale, deeply personal film that most major directors talk about doing from time to time in interviews but never seem to get around to shooting–and to judge from the initial reactions, it appears to be too much for many of them. Since it premiered at last year’s Toronto film festival, it has been called weird, depraved, disgusting and incomprehensible by virtually everyone who has written about it to date. I’ll be the first to admit that yeah, it is weird, depraved, disgusting and incomprehensible. However, it is also smart, funny, touching, thoughtful, beautifully put together and a fascinating addition to the career of one of the most intriguing directors working today.

Opening with a quote from “Alice in Wonderland” (a motif that will recur throughout), “Tideland” tells the story of Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland), an eight-year-old girl living in virtual seclusion with a pair of druggie parents–a burned-out rock star father (Jeff Bridges) and a Nancy Spungen-wannabe mother (Jennifer Tilly)–who rely on her to prepare their fixes of heroin. What save Jeliza-Rose from total despair–what has kept her going throughout an existence that makes “The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things” look like a Hilary Duff extravaganza–is her ability to retreat into the world of her vast imagination as a way of coping with the horrors around her. Her only friends, for example, are a quarter of doll heads that speak to her, have individual personalities and even come to life every once in a while.

When Mom OD’s and dies, Dad grabs Jeliza-Rose and flees to the isolated farmhouse where he spent his childhood, the kind of place where all you can see for miles and miles is miles and miles. Before long, Dad also succumbs to an overdose and Jeliza-Rose is left all alone in a rotted-out house with no food, no way of contacting the outside world, a corpse in the living room that is growing more and more putrid with each passing day and only her rapidly-growing imagination to keep her company. Eventually, a couple of other people enter her life–weirdo amateur taxidermist Dell (Janet McTeer) who seems to have know her father from a long time ago and her younger brother Dickens (Brendan Fletcher), a Downs Syndrome sufferer who also has a grand fantasy life (he is forever planning ways of destroying the “monster shark”–better known as an express train–that is the only thing that punctuates the silence) and who strikes up a friendship with Jeliza-Rose that may well make many viewers cringe as they discuss “silly kisses” that he used to receive from a relative.<

Over the years, Terry Gilliam has given us a gallery of characters who have used their dreams and fantasies as a way of coping with/escaping from the horrors of the real world and “Tideland” is perhaps his most overt exploration of that theme. With the possible exception of one scene set on a bus, everything that we see in the film is filtered through the eyes of someone who has seen and experienced things that most people go their entire lives trying to avoid and who uses her vivid imagination to process those experiences in a manner that she can understand. Since the someone in question is an eight-year-old girl, many critics and viewers have voiced strong objections to the film, especially in regards to the sexually-charged material involving the Dickens and Dell (whom she catches in a compromising position with a delivery boy). And yet, what makes it so discomforting to watch, I suspect, is the fact that Gilliam isn’t playing it for lurid thrills. Instead, he treats these elements with a certain beguiling innocence–because Jeliza-Rose is too young to fully comprehend exactly what she is seeing and hearing, it becomes just another thing in her mind that she is somehow able to come to terms with in her own peculiar manner. <

One of the surprises of “Tideland,” considering the squalid nature of the material and the low budget that Gilliam was obviously working with, is to discover just what a visual marvel it is. Cinematographer Nicola Percorini does an especially brilliant job of creating a look for the film that balances the fantastical elements with the note of grim reality that are forever creeping in. As for the special effects, the majority of them are done in a decidedly non-realistic manner that somehow feels appropriate for this kind of material–too much slickness would destroy the illusion that we are seeing things through a child’s eye. The lone exception is the series of make-up effects used to illustrate the gradual decomposition of the father’s body–this is portrayed in such a vivid and palpable manner that those with weaker constitutions are advised to skip the snack bar before watching the film. (Strange how the sight of such a thing can pack such a wallop while the orgy of flying body parts in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning” barely arouses any emotion at all.)

Although “Tideland” is as visually striking as anything that Gilliam has done before, the most astonishing thing on display is the beautiful central performance that he has elicited from Jodelle Ferland (whom you might recall as the girl from “Silent Hill”) as Jeliza-Rose. This is one of the most challenging roles I can recall for a young actress–Jeliza-Rose is on-screen for virtually the entire film and is placed smack-dab in the kind of scenes that many adult actresses wouldn’t dream of playing–and she pulls it off in such a splendid and spontaneous manner that I would put her work here up against any other actress that I have seen so far this year. In comparison to her strong, simple and unaffected work, the performances from the other actors may seem to be overly hammy by comparison (especially McTeer and Bridges) but it is important to once again realize that they are not supposed to be portraying real people–they are fantasy characters in an exceedingly grim fairy tale and so act accordingly.

As Gilliam himself admits in a prologue that has recently been added to prints of the film, many of you are not going to like “Tideland.” Like all of his other films, it is uneven in some parts and so overstuffed with ideas and images designed to shake viewers up without offering them any easy outs that it may prove to be too much for some audiences. However, those up to the challenge are likely as not to come away from the film enthralled and moved. Part Lewis Carroll, part Alfred Hitchcock, part Andrew Wyeth, part Terrence Malick and all Terry Gilliam, it is a unique and personal vision that, like it or not, will stick in your mind for a long time after you see it.

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originally posted: 10/13/06 16:25:06
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2006 Fantastic Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Orlando Film Festival For more in the 2006 Orlando Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Boston Fantastic Film Festival For more in the 2006 Boston Fantastic Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/06/17 FireWithFire Grow up, terry! Your pretentious, childish views are stuck in the '60s 1 stars
7/12/10 karamashi Terrible! Almost complete rubbish! 1 stars
3/26/09 Anonymous. disturbing, and sad. 4 stars
11/11/08 Emily the strangest, most bizarre film i've ever seen...0.o 4 stars
10/03/08 Tina Street A great film with unending imagination and innocence of an 8 yr. old child. Unforgettable! 5 stars
1/15/08 James Couldn't stop watching. Wanted to, but I couldn't. Loved it. Two days and still in my head. 5 stars
12/03/07 mr.mike certainly not for all tastes , add a star for fans of gilliam/bizarre cinema 3 stars
8/02/07 Lawrence Walker Phantasmagorical allegory of childish and childlike ID, re: imagination & senses, not plot 4 stars
6/18/07 action movie fan where,s the story!!! this movie is dull!!!!!!!! 1 stars
4/26/07 Mick This film is SO fucked up! in a good way. 5 stars
4/09/07 Drdanny Lovely to look at, strange to behold 3 stars
2/05/07 William Goss Positively insufferable, but admittedly transfixing train wreck of a movie. 2 stars
10/23/06 jojo incredible work. 5 stars
10/17/06 Erik most genious movie in years 5 stars
10/16/06 mike Unforgettable and well worth watching you will think about this movie for a long time 4 stars
8/02/06 elly unpredictable, unusual, pretty different than any other movie I've seen this year 4 stars
9/11/05 Pat Caine This movie was terribly offensive! I kept waiting for someone with sense and some values s 2 stars
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  13-Oct-2006 (R)
  DVD: 27-Feb-2007



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