Dir: David Zellner | Nathan Zellner | Cast: Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, David Zellner, Robert Forster, David Zellner | Comedy Western | US | 113′
David and Nathan Zellner’s Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter was a strange and subtly humorous mid-West mystery drama that screened at Berlinale in 2014. The brothers are back at Berlin again this year with a full on comedy Western that totally upends conventions and challenges gender roles. It stars Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska and Robert Forster.
DAMSEL is playful and beautiful to look at in its stunning Goblin Valley Utah setting, but its efforts to be inventive is really what really appeals, apart from a brilliant off the cuff script and, despite from the gun-toting and the darker themes of lovelorn loneliness, there’s an upbeat frisky playfulness that has much in common with Cat Balloo and Altman’s McCabe and Mrs Millar.
The film opens as a jaded Christian missionary (Foster) is bemoaning his efforts to proselytise the Native Indians, While waiting for a stagecoach back East, a pithy tete a tete plays out with a young man (a thoughtfully appealing David Z) who’s heading West, after tragedy, to look for a new start. Suddenly something weird then happens and a more carefree mood carries us through to a windswept beach in Oregon where Samuel Alabaster (a jaunty Pattinson), has arrived with a miniature Palomino pony Butterscotch, and is making his way into a redneck town where he meets up with David Zellner as the newly-styled Parson Henry.
With his jaunty charm and chipper breeziness Samuel is a man a with a mission – he’s got a proposal in mind and wants the parson to come with him, offering a generous reward. The two head off to the remote home of Samuel’s true love Penelope (Mia Wasikowska) where, brimming with excitement, he intends to make her his bride. His cheeky bravado wins the parson’s trust during their eventful treck, but when they arrive at their destination, it soon becomes clear that Samuel has misjudged the mood romance-wise.
Penelope is a feisty individual but sadly she lack depth – and after the cheerful opening credits – where she’s seen dancing with Samuel in better days, Wasikowska soon becomes a storm cloud without a silver lining of any kind. David’s Parson Henry, meanwhile is a man looking for a mother, rather than a mission. He gives a sensitive performance but his character is so sweet and self-deprecating he’s rather to good for this world, and any other – for that matter. So Robert Pattison’s Samuel gets the juiciest role with he pulls of with great charm, and there are some terrific turns from the support cast. The Brothers’ quirky sense of humour is an acquired taste but its certainly unique and some of the comedic incongruity even echoes early scenes from Blazing Saddles. DAMSEL is a real breath of fresh air. MT
BERLINALE 15-25 FEBRUARY 2018