> Volume 6 > Number 24


Vincent Gallo

Vincent Gallo
Chloë Sevigny

Release: 27 Aug. 04

The Brown Bunny


Visceral where it should be obvious and containing an artiness that veers towards pretentiousness, Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny is a wreck, but not as bad as the Cannes '03 press would have you believe. With the festival showing a longer cut of the film, its vocal critics made it into the pariah of an already disappointing year (Palme d’Or winner Elephant and also-ran Dogville were also unfairly denigrated -- they will likely lead my top ten lists for 2003 and 2004, respectively). But The Brown Bunny means well, and it’s effective in ways that few films are, even if it falls apart at the end.

Gallo, who got into a tit-for-tat with Roger Ebert that made both look bad, isn’t a horrible director, just one looking for his grounding. His 1998 film Buffalo ’66 showed his command of characters and relating story arcs to viewers. It was an assured work presented as a bumbling, incoherent mess, and its greatness grew from that.

But in The Brown Bunny, Gallo doesn’t deal with actors like he did in Buffalo ’66. In fact, the film is almost entirely about him, as he drives cross-country to get to a motorcycle race. The long shots of his character driving and thinking are revelatory, but, as they become tedious and repetitive, fail to affect the audience when he comes into contact with others.

Like Eyes Wide Shut, the crux of the film is a man recently wronged by his significant other, and now intent on an odyssey of sexual temptations in hopes of wronging her. Kubrick was less oblique, collecting his thoughts in a series of scenarios that allowed his star to grow and rethink his intentions. Gallo’s character, on the other hand, isn’t about growth, just misery. When the dénouement couples him with the woman he’s so disappointed with (Sevigny), the pay-off is barely satisfactory (though definitely pleasing for him). Eyes Wide Shut hinted at the forging power of sex, but The Brown Bunny only glazes over it; these characters are no more dimensional than their opening compositions because the director is unwilling to let them forge for themselves. Instead he leans on a M. Night Shyamalan twist so incoherent that it deserves a collective groan from art house audiences intent on freeing themselves from the storytelling schemes too prominent in Hollywood cinema. Maybe that’s why The Brown Bunny was such an affront to the Cannes press: its disposition may be pretentiously French (cf. Twentynine Palms), but its finale is decidedly stupid American

©2004, David L. Blaylock,, 11 June 2004