Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
A festival movie with only the slimmest chance of appealing to a wide audience, The Goddess of 1967 comes from Australian director Clara Law, a seasoned talent that changed to art-house fare after a firm start in Hong Kong cinema. Her dominant theme as defined by essayist Dian Li is the investigation of confused personal identities. Even her Hong Kong romance stories dealt with characters in conflict with national definitions, as in Wonton Soup where an Australian-Chinese has trouble adapting to Hong Kong life.
The winner of several prestigious awards on the festival circuit, The Goddess of 1967 is a mannered multicultural road movie about modern dehumanization, featuring alienated, eccentric characters engaged in frequently inexplicable behaviors. Its predictable content follows current trends in PC filmmaking: abused women, childhood traumas and the struggle to break through to a meaningful emotional existence.
Wealthy Tokyo resident J.M. (Rikiya Kurokawa) steals a fortune on the internet and heads for Australia to claim his dream possession, a 1967 Citröen coupe identical to the one driven by Alain Delon in the French film Le samouraï. Unfortunately, the couple that promised to sell it to him has perished in a murder-suicide. When J.M. arrives, he finds their small daughter being cared for by B.G. (Rose Byrne), a young blind woman with an odd personality. B.G. leaves the orphaned daughter to be picked up by the police and accompanies J.M. on a car trip to the outback to locate her father, who is now the proper person from whom to purchase the car. Their episodic adventures on the road are interrupted by flashbacks to B.G.'s experiences as a young girl, and the stories of her mother and grandmother. All of them drove the classy French car; all of them had tragic and terrible lives.
We've in general looked to Australia's Gillian Armstrong and New Zealander Jane Campion for the best in progressive movies about women: My Brilliant Career, Sweetie, An Angel at My Table. Clara Law's semi-abstract road picture benefits from precise performances and excellent photography but remains a somewhat muddled collection of impressionist scenes. Tokyo is an inhuman techno- world that J.M. likens to the planet Mars, and so appears as a posterized urban landscape. Why J.M. has gone off the deep end is never explained, although we're treated to the sight of his best friend run down by a truck in the street. J.M. relates best to his pet king snakes; he uses a female acquaintance as a convenient reptile babysitter while he's off car-hunting.
Also heavily stylized are the driving scenes, which utilize highly artificial traveling mattes. Some of the backgrounds seen through the car windows are step-printed or otherwise purposely made to look unreal. The effect may win approval from film theorists, but it's distracting and affected.
The Goddess of 1967 expends a great deal of effort adoring and fetishizing the "Goddess", the French car that somehow always looks fresh, even though it's spent 35 years exposed to the harsh Australian elements. Animated inter-title sequences tout the car's revolutionary suspension and other merits, like saving French President Charles de Gaulle from assassination (in the right-wing insurrection depicted in the first minutes of Fred Zinnemann's film Day of the Jackal). The car is also the trigger for B.G.'s memories of childhood, which are presented along with objective scenes with her parents and grandparents. These flashbacks extend to include incidents from before B.G. was born. B.G.'s mother, herself the victim of an oppressive childhood, cannot deal with her husband's bland assertion that he has a right to have sex with his own daughter. She tries to sell the tiny, blind B.G. on the notion that her own sinfulness is to blame. Although artfully presented, these flashbacks come off as standard blame-the-world arguments from earlier styles of socially conscious cinema.
Ms. Law manages a number of droll comedy bits, as when reptile fancier J.M. gets bitten by a collectable lizard and must wait patiently for the animal to make up its mind to let him go. Other upbeat moments seem lifted from Quentin Tarantino's book of tricks, like B.G.'s habit of shooting a pistol at odd moments. Blind girl with a gun = laugh riot! A fun 'learning to dance' sequence sees B.G. transforming from maladroit klutz to seasoned hip-hopper in a very Tarantino-ish juke box dance to the Ventures' surf hit Walk, Don't Run. And don't forget the regulation sex scene. The Goddess of 1967 looks progressive but is assembled from off-the-shelf components.
Being avant-garde means never having to explain one's story, and The Goddess of 1967 overflows with loose details, the answers to which are probably, "if such things are a bother, you're watching with the wrong attitude." B.G.'s blindness doesn't prevent her from knowing in detail how to navigate the roads across the Australian outback. The first thing she mentions when greeting J.M. at the door is that a man's brains are splattered on the ceiling. If she's been alone there with the little girl, how is she supposed to know that? Those quibbles aside, Rose Byrne's performance is quite good, and Rikiya Kurokawa is suitably charming as the conveniently constructed J.M. character, your standard fugitive / culture enthusiast / sensitive lover. The Goddess of 1967 is never uninteresting, and it always impresses as the work of talented filmmakers.
HVe's DVD of The Goddess of 1967 is stunningly beautiful in a colorful enhanced transfer that flatters cameraman Dion Beebe's slickly controlled visuals. Beebe's career has taken off in recent years with work in pictures like Chicago, Collateral and Miami Vice. The stereo audio is also good.
The main extra is a making-of docu where Clara Law explains her filming choices and her expert casting of the actresses playing B.G. at an earlier age; both are seen practicing their 'blind' behaviors aided by experts. Dian Li contributes a helpful insert essay explaining the director's successful career. The Goddess of 1967 won a Best Actress award at the Venice Film Festival and a Best Director prize at the Chicago Film Festival, so Ms. Law is surely doing something right.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Goddess of 1967 rates:
Movie: Good -
Supplements: Making of Featurette, trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: April 27, 2007
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson