Neil Young’s Film Lounge – It’s All About Love

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

IT ’S ALL ABOUT LOVE

4/10

Denmark (Den-US-Jap-Swe-UK-Ger-Neth-etc) 2003 (completed 2002) : Thomas VINTERBERG : 104 mins

Coming right after Jean-Jacques Beneix ’s Diva, The Moon in the Gutter may be
a shock, but it ’s the kind of excruciatingly silly movie that only a talented director
can make. (Hacks don ’t leave common sense this far behind.)
Pauline Kael, New Yorker magazine, 19 Sept. 1983*

Festen wunderkind Thomas Vinterberg reaches for the sky with this big-budget follow-up  – and falls spectacularly flat on his face. Inventing a whole new, crap genre  – let ’s call it  “ice noir ”  – the film follows the rollercoaster relationship between Polish-born couple John (Joaquin Phoenix) and his wife Elena (Claire Danes) who are about to get divorced. John ’s attempts to deliver the necessary papers to Elena in New York are complicated by the fact that she ’s an incredibly famous and busy ice-skater  – we ’re in the year 2021, and ice-dance is now the world ’s most popular entertainment event.

The planet, meanwhile, seems poised on the brink of an apocalyptic new ice-age. As the temperature drops, bizarre side-effects abound: in Manhattan, people with  ‘sadness ’ in their hearts are dropping dead in the streets. Over in Uganda, periodic and very localised weaknesses in the gravitational field are causing villagers to float up into the sky. Meanwhile, John ’s brother Marciello (Sean Penn) is circling the globe in an aeroplane  – having taken too much fear-of-flying medication, he ’s now unable to land. Back on the ground, Elena ’s management team aren ’t best pleased when she announces her plan to imminently retire … soon John and Elena are fleeing for their lives, simultaneously falling back in love.

Because, as Richard Curtis would undoubtedly agree, it ’s all about LOVE! Except it isn ’t  – not this film, anyway. It ’s about ice-skating and floating Ugandans and collapsing New Yorkers and clones and Mafia hit-men and the end of the world and aeroplanes and god knows what else, and it ’s also love. But really, it ’s all about one even smaller word. EGO. It ’s All About Love is what happens when a young bloke makes a great movie at only his second attempt (the first, 1996 ’s The Biggest Heroes, was a middling crime comedy). And then he spends months flying round the world from festival to awards-ceremony to festival, being told what a genius he is, peering down from the aeroplane window at the chilly distant world below, and realising that LOVE is all that matters, and that he wants to tell a story about LOVE, and how important it is to feel love, and not surrender to coldness, to ice … ice …

Ice! A love story about ice! She can be an ice dancer, and we can be on the edge of a new ice age, and  – uh, yes, waitress, scotch with ice please, oh go on then, a double, thank you  – and (gulp gulp gulp), oh Jesus, we can have … flying Ugandans!!! Or maybe not. The screenplay for It ’s All About Love was co-written with a wise old head named Mogens Rukov, who ’s normally an excellent scriptwriter. So what went wrong? Well, like Lone Scherfig ’s Wilbur, it doesn ’t help that the screenplay seems to have been was written in Danish then translated into English. This isn ’t as glaringly noticeable as in Wilbur, however, as effreebotty spicks wiz a vorry strengze eccent: even when everyone in a room is 100% Polish, zey all spek Engleesh. Even Marciello (a good Polish name) speaks English when he ’s on the telephone to John.

Like his mentor Lars von Trier, who followed up his stripped-down dogme movie The Idiots with the absurdly elaborate hundred-camera Bjork-Deneuve musical Dancer in the Dark, Vinterberg clearly wanted to go a hundred million miles in the opposite direction. It ’s as if the Sex Pistols, after Never Mind the Bollocks, decided for their next LP to come up with a prog-rock triple-disc concept album, complete with Roger Dean sleeve. It ’s All About Love is a similarly curdled exercise in self-indulgence: stilted surrealism; ponderous decadence; stately nonsense; deadpan pretentiousness. But despite the odd spooky-hotel-corridor moment when Vinterberg unwisely tries to be David Lynch (as in fellow Dane N.W.Refn ’s similarly abortive Fear X) the film looks terrific. It ’s a rare thing to find Anthony Dod Mantle working with 35mm celluloid, but his work here easily matches anything in Dogville and 28 Days Later, the films for which he won the 2003 European Film Award as Best European Cinematographer.

Love was conspicuously absent from the nomination lists, of course  – it ’s already established as a full-blown turkey. Of course, in these days of processed-cheese blockbusters and processed-cheese arthouse movies, it feels very churlish to criticise Vinterberg for trying something very different. And his film has no shortage of ideas  – trouble is, they ’re all such rubbish ideas. At least we now know what Jayne Torvill ’s nightmares look like  – but, in the light of this film and L.von Trier ’s Dogville (plus the harsh reviews accorded to S.K.Jacobsen ’s Skaggerak and K.Levring ’s The Intended) it ’s dismaying indeed to see the four original dogme brethren stumble after flying so high. It ’s All About Love may conclude with a hilariously weird shot of floating Ugandans  – but the dogme boys are proving much less buoyant, as one by one their reputations come thud-thud-thud-thudding back to earth.

25th December, 2003
(seen 10th December : Mr Young ’s Screening Rooms, Soho, London)

* reproduced in the 1985 collection State of the Art

by Neil Young