Once upon a time, Jaco Van Dormael was, thanks to his debut Toto le héros (Toto the Hero), the golden boy of the francophone Belgian cinema. But he hasn’t directed a film since his second feature Le huitième jour (The Eighth Day) from 1996. He did invest quite some time in a Tintin project until Hergé's widow decided that Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson were better suited.
She might change her mind after seeing Van Dormael's longawaited third feature, Mr Nobody, playing now across the country. It’s the director’s first film in English and a roller coaster ride in which the imagination goes wild.
Nemo Nobody is, in 2092, the last living mortal on earth. At age 117 and surrounded by immortals, he contemplates his life. Or does he? Because we don't see one life, we see several, constantly multiplying. We're presented with a series of possible lives that all stem from one dilemma: will the nineyear- old Nemo (in a train station called Chance) decide to move with his mother to the United States, or will he choose to stay in the United Kingdom with his father? Each choice leads to a different life, and within these two lives he's faced again with similar choices.
The consequences of choice are a constant thread in Van Dormael's work, dating back to his 1984 short È pericoloso sporgersi (It is Dangerous to Project) and narrated in Mr Nobody: "We cannot go back. That's why it's difficult to choose. As long as you don't choose, everything is possible."
Sounds serious, but Van Dormael serves it with a nice slice of humour. Jared Leto, who plays Nemo Nobody, thought that Requiem for a Dream was the wildest film he had ever played in, but admitted he had to change his opinion.
Visually, Mr Nobody is an amazing film – from the set design, with references to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Metropolis, to the camerawork - but the characters are more puppets on a string than fleshed out human beings. Maybe that's what humans are in the hands of Fate.
In any case, this approach renders Mr Nobody a bit cerebral at times, and I could have done without the philosophical digressions about time, string theory and whatever, but chances are you won't see another movie this year that is as inventive and as entertaining at the same time, with poignant moments tossed in as a bonus. A fairy tale for adults from Wacko Jaco.