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Overall Rating

Awesome: 34.48%
Worth A Look62.07%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 3.45%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 11 user ratings

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by Thom

"A poetic meditation on dreams and nightmares in our waking life"
4 stars

A decrepit bathhouse is home to eccentric patrons and staff alike who are prisoners of the routine of their lives. The owner is a blind man and the two staff members, the woman who works the door and the maintenance man, stage an elaborate charade each day to keep the old blind owner convinced he still runs a thriving, joyful bath house filled with children and laughter. The truth is that the bathhouse is in ruins and the town it stands in has long been demolished. The bath house is the last thing standing and the five dedicated patrons rarely pay in cash. The door woman has a fetish for buttons, which she gladly accepts as payment.

Tuvalu is a surrealist fantasy that combines the bleakness of Bergman with the sensitivity of Jeunet and Caro (City of Lost Children, Delicatessen) and the macabre and moody style of the Brothers Quay who took notes from Jan Svankmeijer.

Filmed in black and white, the negatives were processed to give each scene a slight color value from sepia to violet.

There is hardly any speaking and the mood is like a silent film with setting and body language accounting for the visual poetry of the film. Dialogue is something like a Popeye cartoon with guttural grunts and squeels and the occasional word in some invented language. When an English word is spoken the effect is startling and feels somewhat out of place. Most of the language is a hybrid of French, Russian, Italian and English. The Latinate/Germanic/Slavic language helps create the dreamy, time out of place feel but giving it a recognizable realism. This is a dream that is trying to transcend the particulars of world geography that puts it somewhere in the vaguely defined collective Western experience after the cold-war but invoking the era before and during that period of our history.

The tone of the film is meant to be something like the industrial orderliness of the Soviet Union. Everything is in decay and disrepair and there just arenít adequate resources to keep everything and everyone healthy, happy and in top condition. There is just enough to keep going with the inevitable breakdowns of order.

When an old sea captain visits the baths with his young daughter, everyoneís life changes. The shoeless maintenance man,who, it seems, is the son of the blind owner, falls in love with his daughter. A storm keeps her in the area and she and her father soon become part of the daily machine. But a greedy and vindictive brother who lives in the city, decides he wants not only the see captainís daughter but he wants his father to sell the bathhouse to authorities so they can create a block of apartments and he can take off with the money. The evil brother sets off a chain of events that lead ultimately, to his downfall but not before causing a lot of trouble for everyone else.

The Bathhouse at times resembles a comical version of a lunatic asylum because of the people that were left behind in the area. Like rats, they adapt to their surroundings and the simple routine of their life in the desolate landscape because they are unable to go elsewhere. They find joy and meaning in this routine and rebel against changes that threaten their way of life including the encroachment of technology and civic legislation.

This film has a very anti-progress undercurrent and change is cruelly inflicted upon the waifs and wayfarers, the neglected and the lost. Their ability to adapt remains unchanged throughout. The devastation could have been caused by some war and I kept thinking about the former Yugoslavia or any of the European countries that were devastated by any number of wars and how life continued amidst the ruins. Like a weed growing in the cracks of the pavement. Thatís either a hardy plant or one that just thrives under those conditions. The characters in the film donít intellectualize their actions, they just act.

The sea captains daughter, though, wants to escape to the island Tuvalu and the action becomes all about getting the simple maintenance man and the attractive young girl together for true loveís journey towards paradise.

Less fanciful than City of Lost Children and certainly less bleak and obscure than Ingmar Bergman, Tuvalu brings back that dreamy, decrepit sensibility that contains real love and joy. I could say itís a meditation on the strength of the heart and the will to live but its more than that.

Tuvalu is a fairy tale in the real sense, with real danger and real death and real chaos threatening as well as shaping every moment of life with one force that pulls the characters through. While not being sentimental or a simple portrait of love conquers all, love acts like the gyroscope that keeps everything from being dashed to bits when the seas get rough. Everything manages to find a balance.

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originally posted: 11/19/01 11:03:39
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User Comments

5/25/10 Hal Morris Saw this twice at the Philadelphia Internat'l Film Festival; then later on DVD. Love it. 5 stars
6/17/06 millersxing whimsical & ambitious; a creative vision inspired by genius 5 stars
7/26/05 Chuck A very unique and incredible film 5 stars
9/27/04 alicia i just couldn't get into it.. 2 stars
6/11/04 Steve I am 54, European live in the Us, seen all the good films, but this is the best one. 5 stars
4/20/04 Salvez I thought this movie was brilliant! I would highly recommend it. 5 stars
1/11/04 adam excellent 5 stars
6/27/02 Lisa Ryberg One of the most beautiful films I've seen 5 stars
1/04/02 Vlad It is very rare that I wanted to see the film several times 5 stars
11/20/01 Randy Kret One of the Most Beautiful films of the Year!! 5 stars
11/20/01 David Cooney Wonderous, poetic and visually spectacular. What a breattaking and poignant film... 5 stars
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