Pelvis of J.W., The

(Le Bassin de J.W.)
(Portugese/French)

Toronto Film Festival 1997–A philosophical comedy with religious overtones about God, Lucifer, and John Wayne, the new film from Portuguese director Joao Cesar Monteiro is as wildly original as his former movies. N.Y.'s Film Forum and L.A.'s Nuart should consider a retrospective of the idiosyncratic oeuvre of a filmmaker, whose unique and quirky sensibility has been acknowledged in Europe, but is almost totally unfamiliar in the U.S.

Defying any recognizable trends in the international cinema today, Monteiro's eccentric universe unfolds like a cross between a long dream (his films tend to run over two hours) and an intellectual dissertation. The Pelvis of J.W. is probably more demanding and less intriguing than either Recollections of the Yellow House (1989) or God's Comedy (1995), movies which won prizes in Venice and other festivals.

The new film centers on two male characters: Jean de Dieu and Henrique (played by Monteiro), who are acting in Strindberg's play, The Inferno, in which de Dieu plays Lucifer and Henrique plays God. Offstage, de Dieu is the director of the play and Henrique an adventurous sailor, who considers John Wayne's sexy swagger to be nothing short of divinity. Henrique's fascination with the American icon has drawn him towards an impossible and hostile location: the North Pole!

De Dieu introduces Henrique to an author who decides to write a scenario in which the two men meet another mythical character, Ariane (symbol of liberty). As the two walk leisurely around town, they exercise their freedom and a certain verbal rivalry manifests itself between them.

Monteiro displays droll humor in playing on the public's notions of–and anxieties concerning–God and Lucifer, in both the staged play and the more realistic situations. Cerebral conversations about various topics, ranging from the most obscure to the most mundane, are often interrupted by irreverent and illogical moments and gentle humor.

Considering the scope of his film, Monteiro's creates a distinctive universe with technical assuredeness and emotional control. A stylist, he favors single extended takes–the first sequence is an awesome theatrical tableau–avoiding close-ups as much as possible. For ordinary American moviegoers, the movie runs the risk of appearing too symbolic and pretentious, but for cineastes, it represents a stimulating philosophical journey through some of Western civilization's most sacred ideas. Boasting one of modern cinema's most creative and sophisticated minds, Monteiro belongs to a league of his own.

Credits

A Euripide/Fabrica de Imagens production. Produced by Jose Mazeda, Daniel Toscan du Plantier, Frederic Sichler. Executive producer, Joao Fonseca. Directed, written by Joao Cesar Monteiro. Camera (color), Mario Barroso; editor, Carla Bogalheiro; production design, Nelson Fonseca, Jorge Spencer.
Running time: 145 min.

Cast

Joao Cesar Monteiro
Pierre Clementi
Hughes Quester.