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Exciting pre-production artwork from Jaco Van Dormael's "Mr. Nobody"

The first article I wrote for NTS, if I remember correctly, consisted of gushing praise for the 1991 Belgian film "Toto Le Heros", which was the directing debut of one Jaco Van Dormael. His follow-up was "L'Huitieme Jour", a well intentioned but bloated and patronising mess which nonetheless was a critical success, largely thanks to the stunning performance of it's downs syndrome suffering lead actor Pascal Duquenne, and the emotional honesty hiding behind the predictable plot shenanigans. It's not an entirely bad film, it's just a seriously disjointed film with some insufferable moments. Perhaps aware that the bit with everyone dressed up as clowns in a shopping centre was enough to discourage even his most ardent fans, Van Dormael has waited more than a decade to return to the directors chair.

Jaco Van Dormael is responsible for both my favourite film of all time and the one I've been most disappointed by, so I've been cautious about allowing myself to be excited about Mr. Nobody. The cast is led by Jared Leto, who has a similar propensity to be either excellent or execrable at the flip of a coin, and the plot summary which recently surfaced online is dead, dead, dead weird.

Nemo Nobody, the character played by Leto, is the last mortal man in a futuristic world where science has found a way to easily sidestep death. He is lying in a hospital bed, aged 120, with the worlds media crowding around him, experiencing fractured and possibly misleading memories of his life under hypnosis. Here's a slightly more detailed synopsis, translated fairly ineptly into English probably using babelfish or similar.

Mr. Nobody english synopsis

The présent day, more or less. Nemo (Jared Leto) is 35, an ordinary man, married to Ehse (Sarah Polley). with three children. But life's tuming strange : billfaoaids flash messages addressed only to hirfl; on thé streets, he passes strangers with his face; behind thé façade of a half-constructed building, he sees helicopters lifting enormous blocks of thé océan... Mémo wakes to find himself trapped in his car, drowning. He wakes and is shot by an unknown assassin. He wakes again... by a swimmmg pool in thé grounds of an opulent mansion. With a newwife and new children.

It's thé year 2092. Mars is the rmmber one holiday destination; science has rendered natural death obsolete. In hospital, as the world's media and population look on. a 120-year-old man is dying. Nemo, thé last morttal on earth. Under hypnosis. fragments of his past begin to emerge. Nemo is 3. Occasionally, he dreams of thé future, and occasionally his dreams corne nue. In his home-town live three little girls, Anna, Elise and Jean. Life offers an infinite variety oî possibihties. and as long as Nemo does nothmg, anything can happen. But wtien his parents split up, he is forced to choose. ll's impossible, and his life divides in two. The boy plunges headlong into a chaotic world, where nothing happens by chance, yet nothing ean be foreseen. A universe where the beating of a butterfly's wings in Japan can cause storars on thé other side of thé globe.

So Nemo remains with his father, and départs with his inother. Years pass. In England, 16-year-old Nemo dreams of love, of disaster, of life on Mars.

He falls for Elise, and when she rejects him, pursues Jean. Halfway across thé world, the other Nemo falls m love with Anna, daughter of his mcther's lover. The love of a lifetime. Their clandestine affair is joyous, their days and nights blissful, until his mother and her father part and Anna vanishes from Nemo's !ife.

So thematically, we're firmly in Toto The Hero territory - an old man reviewing his life and loves, trying to craft a narrative out of the chaotic events of his life. The DVD of Toto The Hero includes a wonderful documentary about the sections of the film which were supposed to take place in the future - while budgetary constraints prevented the "future" from looking terribly futuristic (in the glimpses we see of it, it's not terribly different from the present), the designs shown in the documentary illustrate a future-scape (is that a word?) that is a logical extension of the present, rather than a bunch of stylised, gleaming-white buildings with hover cars zooming around them. While Mr. Nobody appears to deal with more far-fetched science fiction concepts, I trust Van Dormael to ground them in a recognisable reality.

And finally, there's the pre-production art which has surfaced on the same French website as that garbled synopsis. The images look exactly how I want a Jaco Van Dormael science fiction film to look - surreal yet oddly personal, like a more restrained Gilliam, or culled from a bizarre first draft of Toto.

Toto The Hero is widely available on DVD now, and quite frankly, all of you should buy it. I watch it about once a month and it never fails to make the world seem like a more splendid place. Furthermore, if anyone can help me get my hands on the following, it would be very much appreciated -

1. "Sur la terre comme au ciel", a 1992 film co-written by Van Dormael and directed by Marion Hansel.

2. Any of the following Van Dormael-directed shorts
Boot, De (1985)
È pericoloso sporgersi (1984)
Sortie de secours (1983)
Imitateur, L' (1982)
Stade 81 (1981)
Maedeli la brèche (1980)

3. "Lumière et compagnie" (1995), a film consisting of 40 short films produced by international directors including Van Dormael and David Lynch using the original Cinematographe invented by the Lumière Brothers under 1895 conditions (no film was to be longer than 52 seconds, no synchronised sound was permitted, and neither were any more than three takes).

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