Saturday, September 19, 2009

Mr. Nobody

Director Jaco Van Dormael returns after a long absence with Mr. Nobody, the story of Nemo Nobody (Jared Leto), who is the last mortal man left on the planet in 2092, when everyone else has achieved near immortality through genetic and cellular manipulation. Nemo is a news story, not only because he is about to die, but because no one knows who he is. He doesn't exist in any records, and when a reporter sneaks into his room to snag an interview, Nemo can only give seemingly contradictory stories about his life. He weaves tales of lives with three different women: Anna (played by Juno Temple as a teen - she's also at the festival in Cracks - and by Diane Kruger as an adult); Elise (played by Canadians Clare Stone as a teen and Sarah Polley as an adult); and Jeanne (Linh Dan Pham, who played Camille in Indochine). But all his stories seem to take place at the same time in the same space and it's not clear to the reporter which is the truth, and even Nemo himself doesn't seem to know until the end.

Mr. Nobody is chock full of philosophical elements but really rests on a underpinning of physics and quantum mechanics. The film muses about entropy, the arrow of time, and even the butterfly effect, but the core of the film and its stories can be thought of (and possible spoilers to follow from here on in) as Schrödinger's cat, with Nemo as the cat. His lives with Anna, Elise, and Jeanne, are but some of the possible states for his actual life that are in an indeterminate state until finally collapsed into one reality. I was partially reminded of the Nicolas Cage film Next (but in a good way), as even changes as small as a leaf on a road affect Nemo's life and cause it to play out in radically different ways. The film has a visually arresting style, from Nemo's futuristic world to his childhood in the 70's. Leto, and Toby Regbo as young Nemo, both do a good job of playing multiple versions of their characters, both the same and subtly different in each different version of their realities. From a narrative point of view, I thought the origin of the Elise story seemed a bit more awkward in contrast to say, the Anna story, which felt more natural. But overall I thought it was an interesting film, much more than say Sliding Doors, that examines the myriad different paths a person's life can take even because of the smallest things both in and out of our control.

Some of the cast were present at the start of the film (Sarah Polley was there, but not Jared Leto), but only director Jaco Van Dormael returned for a Q&A at the conclusion of the film:

  • On the origin of the film, Van Dormael joked he didn't know but that people usually go to the hospital for that, but he makes films.
  • When asked how he would pitch the film, Van Dormael described it as a very "expensive, experimental film" which got a laugh.
  • Van Dormael wrote the screenplay with the stories already mixed (as opposed to writing each story separately then mixing them). He writes on cards that allow him to move them around and find edits for the beginning, middle, and end.
  • Editing was a huge process; they had two main editors that were like two feet in the story and six sub editors that worked on smaller scenes and pieces.
  • He joked that he got finance by chance and that maybe no one read the script. It was actually a long process to get financing, that you never have enough co-producers and that every time you bring on another one of the others drops out. And that there are times when everyone wants to do the film, and then no one wants to do it, and then everyone wants to do it again. It's a little chaotic, but there are some that are continuously there and believe in the film. It was co produced between Canada, Belgium, and Germany, so they shot partially in Montreal (where the visual effects were also done), they shot
    in Germany for the future of Montreal, and Belgium stood in for England.
  • Most of the crew are friends that Van Dormael has worked with before, such as the sound engineer and makeup, the DoP was one of his students in film school. They tried to find one style for each life.
  • Even after seven years writing the script, the film was pretty close to the original vision. They tried hard not to make it look like 2001 or Metropolis, but elements of those still kind of made their way in.

Spoilers below:

  • The life he ultimately chooses is the one he missed in a way. He lived completely the lives except for the one with Anna because she isn't there.
  • There are three types of relationships; one where he loves her and she loves him, one where he loves her and she doesn't love him, and one where she loves him but he doesn't love her.


My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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