This is my second out of three TIFF film reviews and I will also be writing a festival report. - David Davidson
Promises Written in the Water (Vincent Gallo, 2010)
Vincent Gallo’s third full-length feature Promises written the water is radical, impolite, and punk. Though it is a little unclear, the story is about a guy, Kevin (Vincent Gallo), who is yearning an ex-girlfriend and opts for a job as a funeral director. There he takes up the role of the host of the funeral home, driver of the hearse, helps out at the mortuary and picks up the corpses. This is similar to Vincent Gallo who spreads himself all over filmmaking by being the director, editor, and producer of his films. The funeral director title is also apt to describe the guy as in his films he usually kills off his girlfriends.
He sees this women Malory (Delfine Bafort; a gorgeous thirty-one-year old Belgium model) and they go out to eat where they have a conversation about Kevin’s ex-girlfriend. In this scene, Kevin recites that Colette has left him for a fifty-five year old and that they are going to Thailand together, but she said that he would always be her favorite. What is so fascinating here is that he repeats the line five times, almost like a record skipping, but with slight variation; emphasizing the nuances of his performance, thematically bridging the film, while also expanding and creating a distinct film-language. Vincent Gallo’s music albums (i.e. When) provide interesting extensions to his films. The two are very lyrical like how the guitar strings hint towards the films tranquility and an EP like So Sad hints towards his sadness and repetition.
Kevin walks into his old apartment and picks up a pair of shoes. A mafioso tries to get him to take up a new job. He refuses. There are a lot of close-ups on his sorrowful mug and the Bressonian scenes of him walking emphasize his loneliness. Kevin pours his heart out to Malory, tells her he loves her, asks her to marry him, he plans for them to move into his house and he has money. Though she brings men home, Kevin wants her to find the one person to make her happy. It is hinted that Malory has a terminal illness and the interspaced scenes of her naked in a white bathtub foreshadow her eventual suicide. Kevin’s love for her though, his promises to her written in the water, are part of the baggage he will carry after she goes. The water motif is brought forward at the begging of the film with its opening shot of Lake Los Angeles.
There are obvious influences of Vincent Gallo’s recent collaboration with Francis Ford Coppela on the movie Tetro. The two are digital productions, they both are shot in black-and-white, Vincent Gallo’s bad ass is more rounded compared to The Brown Bunny, and they both include a dance sequence. Though Francis Ford Coppola said his cinematography is more inspired by Elia Kazan and Powell & Pressburger. Vincent Gallo and his director of photography Masanobu Takayanagi are harder to characterize but there are some semblances with works by Ashby, Antonioni, Dreyer, Cronenberg, Cumming, and von Trier. In this film there is now more dialogue, especially compared to The Brown Bunny where words were very sparse.
Vincent Gallo is one of the more exciting contemporary independent directors. He takes roles in larger films to support his independent productions. The latest film he acts in is Jerzy Skolimowski’s Essential Killing. Like Jacques Tati’s Mr. Hulot’s character, the Vincent Gallo by Vincent Gallo character is a reoccurring projection of a melancholy romantic. When Kevin helps out the mortician, carrying a corpse and says, “ I don’t want to do it.” He still goes ahead with it. There is a strange urgency in his films. His uncompromising perseverance to keep making the kind of movies he wants to make places him, alongside Harmony Karine, as one of today’s punk American independents. John Cassavetes would be proud. – David Davidson
(Isabel Bader Theater, 93 Charles Street West, Toronto, ON)