Issue 4-2022 small

9 February 2006 Edition

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Film Review - Bizarre and breathtaking cinematic vision

Breakfast on Pluto

By Neil Jordan

Breakfast on Pluto is Neil Jordan's latest adaptation of a Patrick McCabe novel and in many ways it returns to the themes of the earlier The Butcher Boy as well those of the equally excellent The Crying Game which is from Jordan's own script.

While The Butcher Boy was peppered with televisual references to the Cold War and its paranoid impact on the people of a small border town in the early 1960s, Breakfast on Pluto jumps a decade and is full of equally iconic but much more optimistic references to the '70s. 'Glam Rock' and all its excesses provides the film with its underlying style, which is both visually sumptuous and gloriously over the top.

The story concerns Patrick 'Kitten' Braden, a young transvestite growing up in a border town in Cavan experiencing the trauma of loyalist/British bombs. Patrick has been 'fathered' by the local parish priest, Father Liam played by Liam Neeson, and subsequently fostered in the town. His mother, Father Liam's former housekeeper, has gone to live in London and Patrick/Kitten goes off to find his 'Phantom Lady' as he continually describes her.

Jordan's vision becomes darker and the film increasingly resembles a doom laden, post modern take on The Wizard of Oz. Along the way 'Kitten' encounters a series of picaresque characters with Brendan Gleeson playing a Womble (yes, from Wimbledon!!) as the Cowardly Lion; Stephen Rea as The Amazing Albert, a deeply disturbed magician who is like none other than the Scarecrow; and Gavin Friday playing Billy Hatchet, a punk rocker in a memorable take on the Tin Man! If this seems a little farfetched, its Kitten's role as Dorothy on a journey to find her 'Phantom Lady'/Wizard that clinches it.

As in the 1939 classic, when Kitten finally gets to meet her Wizard it's all a bit of an anti-climax and the old adage that 'there's no place like home' results in Kitten returning to Cavan to find solace as the housekeeper to Father Liam! Jordan is clearly in the realms of the surreal and occasionally ridiculous here but there's no doubting that with the possible exception of Tim Burton, there is no director in English language film whose cinematic vision is as bizarre, breathtaking and rewarding as Jordan's. Whilst Burton's roots are in Expressionism, Jordan's more properly resides with Jean Cocteau, as well as the Latin American Magic Realists.

The acting is superb all round. Watch out for an amazing, sinister cameo by Brian Ferry. This film lurches wildly between the irritating, unbelievable, amazing and brilliant, and it does reward patience; however if you prefer your 'Dorothy' played by Judy Garland, then this film is probably not for you...... or perhaps on second thoughts, its tailor made for you!!!


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