The first American film to come out of the Dogme ‘95 movement, Julien Donkey Boy highlights the multifarious effects of schizophrenia within an unconventional American family. Very much drawing on the real and humane subject matter as the manifesto dictates, this perplexing film deviates so far from Lars von Trier’s code of conduct by being aesthetically aware, with optical allusion, artificial lighting and digital enhancement to give it an organic 35mm quality. To put it bluntly, JDB isn’t one for Dogme purists, but is it a good film?
In one of his rare acting roles, Werner Herzog is particularly menacing as a disapproving, harsh paternal figure to dysfunctional Julien, played by Trainspotting’s own Spud, aka Ewen Bremner. These two, striking performances, along with Korine’s hazy, purposefully reckless shooting-style, give the film a wholly claustrophobic, corporeally flinching quality. However, JDB disappoints in being unable to back-up this physical reaction with an emotional connection to a story; acting as a simulation to real life and forgetting that it is a fiction film in the first place.
Julien Donkey Boy is a fluffy art film. Clocking in at a surprisingly low 94 minutes, the lack of narrative drive makes the time feel hopelessly overwrought.