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The Auteurs Daily: Venice and Toronto. My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?


The Auteurs Daily

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?

"Following so hot on the heels of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans that the latter's shoe leather will be scuffed," begins Leslie Felperin in Variety, "Werner Herzog's My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, unspooled in Venice as a surprise film, actually repped the lesser surprise, given Lieutenant's unexpectedly friendly Lido reception. Teeming with quirky references to Herzog's oeuvre, My Son will feel like familiar territory for the helmer's fans, but that doesn't make it a good film.... [A]t times the pic feels like a joshing, good-natured parody of a [David] Lynch movie, given the big deal made of coffee in one scene, the use of spooky underlighting and the comical, nonsensical appearance of a person of restricted growth (Verne Troyer).... In any event, Lynch is definitely in on the joke; he exec produced the pic, which is billed as 'a David Lynch presentation.'"

"Michael Shannon headlines as a mentally disturbed young San Diegoan whose life revolves principally around his smothering, well-meaning mother (Grace Zabriskie), and rather less around his increasingly bewildered fiancee (Chloë Sevigny)," writes Guy Lodge at In Contention. "Believing himself possessed by a higher power after cheating death on one occasion, he develops murderous inclinations - and to elaborate would be to spoil what minimal intrigue the catatonic narrative holds."

"Although it drags in the middle," writes Empire's Damon Wise, "My Son, My Son really gathers (not builds) for a chilling climax that doesn't explain anything at all but very convincingly portrays the damage caused by mental illness and the shocking banality and surrealism of true-life crime. Even now, hours after I saw it, I still can't quite believe that it's not a new, under-the-radar David Lynch movie."

And someone on the Time Out London film crew has tweeted, "Need some time to mull, but I think it was a masterpiece."

Reuters' Mike Collett-White has notes on the press conference.

Next stop: Toronto.

Updates: Via Rex Sorgatz, this from Colleen Barry's report for the AP: "[T]he film is based on the true story of a southern California actor who kills his mother. And proving life can be stranger than fiction, Herzog said the real-life actor was known in some circles for playing the role of Orestes, who in the Greek tragedy kills his mother. Herzog said that, when he decided to do the film, he visited the man after his release from a mental institution, where he had lived 8½ years after being declared unfit to stand trial. 'From a distance, I could tell he was still kind of dangerous, still really insane,' Herzog said. He recalled finding in the actor's small trailer home a poster of Herzog himself with a crucifix over it and a candle beneath. 'After that meeting, I never contacted him again.'"

Meantime: "Werner Herzog said Saturday he was opening a school to teach 'guerrilla filmmaking' at a variety of venues around the world," reports the AFP.

Updates, 9/7: "It's a self-reflexive and puckish essay on the roots of insanity which bursts with references to the director's world-beating back catalogue," writes Time Out London's David Jenkins. "While recent films like Grizzly Man and Encounters at the End of the World were about the indifference of the natural world towards mankind, My Son, My Son chooses to explore the similarly chaotic and unfathomable nature of the human mind.... There's little doubt that the film will madden those not willing to tangle with some of its more lunatic concepts. For everyone else, it will sit cosily next to Aguirre, Fitzcaraldo, Kaspar Hauser and the rest as a dazzling and utterly distinctive art movie that may be difficult to fathom but richly rewards those willing to dig beneath its shimmering and oblique exterior."

It may be "a police procedural wrapped in a Greek tragedy and shot through with the delusions of mental illness," writes Screen's new editor Mike Goodridge, but "it is a very ordinary tale of madness and fails to mesmerize like other Herzog characters Grizzly Man or Fitzcarraldo or even his other Venice competition character in Bad Lieutenant."

Update, 9/9: ST VanAirsdale talks with Dafoe for Movieline.

Updates, 9/17: "A friend is convinced the movie is intentionally funny, but as Lynch detractors often complain - I find it weird to side with them for once - nonstop craziness has a way of growing tedious." Ben Kenigsberg in Time Out Chicago: "There is a high curiosity factor here, and probably a viewership as well. But bear in mind that these are probably the same viewers who attend regular screenings of The Room."

Todd Brown at Twitch: "I am personally very pleased to have experienced once but will likely feel no urge to experience ever again."

"[T]he film seems pointed hopefully in the direction of Lynch's audiences," notes Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter.

Indeed, for Manohla Dargis, writing in the New York Times, it "plays like an inert pastiche of a David Lynch film."

Rocco Castoro interviews Herzog for the new Vice Film Issue.

Updates, 9/19: "Smooshing near-parodic versions of tropes by both Herzog (maddening jungles, incongruous animals) and Lynch (promiscuous coffee-drinking, tuxedoed dwarves), it's strenuously deadpan where [Bad Lieutenant] was organically hysterical," blogs Fernando F Croce at Slant. "It works most intriguingly as a curious meeting between simpatico but ultimately incompatible artists, not unlike Dalí doing his own version of Millet's Angelus."

Counters Mike D'Angelo at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "The very same people who were tickled by Bad Lieutenant's ludicrous Iguanacam and manic Nicolas Cage performance have dismissed the more somber My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done as a tedious compendium of mannered eccentricity, with many comparing it unfavorably to the work of one of its producers, David Lynch. Which only goes to show how utterly tone-deaf even the most perceptive film critics can sometimes be....  I make no great claims for this film, which never even approaches the grandiose heights of old-school Herzog masterpieces like Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo. But it does work beautifully as a lyrical flipside to The Bad Lieutenant, finding grace in madness."

For Josef Braun, My Son "shows Herzog's approach to atmosphere at its freshest in years, my favourite moments being ones where all characters onscreen suddenly fall silent and stop moving before the camera while a song by Caetano Veloso or Chavela Vargas plays out on the soundtrack."

Update, 9/22: Daniel Kasman: "'Purer' than The Bad Lieutenant, which finds truth in a man whereas the San Diegan film finds truth in the world, My Son, My Son is practically luxurious as a beautiful series of ur-Herzogian moments of unreal-too-reality and strangely idiomatic English phrases of mystic and faux-mystic profound expression."

TIFF 09: Index; full coverage; lineup.


Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant/My Son is surely going to be a one-two punch of comedic genius.
Ok, Werner Herzog intending to teach guerrilla filmmaking at various sites has got to stimulate a whole lotta interest. I wonder what kind of coin one will have to pony up for the experience?
I’m guessing that WH is taking a huge jab at psychoanalysis, the one field that he hates. Let’s see what he gives us in this couple of movies…
Are you sure Herzog isn’t opening a school to teach gorillas filmmaking?
Chuck. I think I’ve just been inspired to change my career.

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