Perhaps it was foolish to expect a film with the subtitle "The Island of the Pachyderms" to be anything but muddled nonsense. Perhaps it was too much to expect characters to react to the world around them and behave coherently from scene to scene. Perhaps I was simply supposed to embrace some sort of enchanted force while watching Jean-Jacque Beineix's IP5, but when characters aren't awed by the magic in front of them, it's hard for it to translate through the screen.
The title (whose Pachyderm subtitle is conspicuously missing from Cinema Libre's new DVD) refers to the tag-name of a graffiti artist and thief named Tony (Olivier Martinez), who lives in an unfashionable neighborhood of Paris and spends his days spray-painting elaborate designs on walls. He's taken under his wings a plucky poor boy named Jojo (Olivier Martinez), I guess to teach him how to be an ass.
I will now attempt to explain the plot setup. If you're prone to migraine headaches, you may want to skip ahead. A gang of skinheads steal Tony's graffiti photo album and threaten to burn it if he doesn't deliver a bunch of dwarf statues to Grenoble. He agrees, and takes Jojo, even though the skinheads don't want him to come along (he's black, and the skinheads refer to him as a monkey). Jojo really wants to see snow, you see. But none of that actually matters, because the pair quickly abandon the dwarf-loaded van and steal a BMW to go to Toulouse. Tony wants to find Gloria, a girl he fell for before leaving. She, uh, had her roommate lie and tell Tony that she moved from Paris to Toulouse. But then she ripped the phone from her roommate's hand to yell at Tony, so you'd think he'd determine that she isn't in Toulous. But somehow her existence in Toulouse is a matter of fact. It makes sense while you're dreaming, I guess.
On the journey, the boys' paths continually cross with an old man who apparently has magical powers, played by legendary handsome Frenchman Yves Montand in his final role. Montand come off well, working a spiritual charm that is destined to turn these kids' world-views around. But they don't really care--this guy could walk on water and they'd barely notice.
Writer/director Beineix, best known for Diva and Betty Blue, has a way with visuals, and pulls off some beautiful shots both in the city and the forest, where the old man is looking for a lake and island to remind him of his true love. The best thing to come out of this quest is breathtaking shot along a rippling, moonlit lake. But Beineix never seems to have decided exactly what to do with this film. He might be telling the story of an aging old man who may be a mystical presence or he might just be throwing in obnoxiously broad caricatures for the sake of fart jokes.
He also has an odd habit, also demonstrated in Roselyne and the Lions, of drawing his characters as overbearing jerks, then granting them cheap, unearned redemption. Tony and Jojo are basically the densest couple of bozos ever to set out on the road. In the face of the slightest negative feelings, they immediately revert to blustery petulance. And the device used to get Tony where he wants to be at the end does so with a big narrative cheat.
The characters shift attitudes and emotions with no regard to their state of mind in the previous scene. Tony might start to feel sympathetic to the old man, only to be on the verge of violence the next. Even with a lose episodic structure like IP5's, a film needs to have some sort of understanding of the characters to follow the story. Otherwise, we might as well just wander around looking for pachyderms.
There are certain moments of IP5 that really pop. The reds of Tony's graffiti art and Jojo's hat stand right out with vibrant energy. Other colors are less emphasized, but I suspect a lot of this has to do with the film's visual design and the weather during shooting, which includes both right blue skies and pastel bunches of clouds. The city interiors' warm, brown tones make even the dingiest, worn-down apartments look inviting.
The black levels are quite good, the detail decent and the compression pretty unnoticeable for a single-layer disc. There are a few moments when details seem to jitter around during camera pans, but they aren't noticeable most of the time.
Unfortunately, the subtitles are burnt-in to the picture.
The film is presented with its a monaural French track and hard-coded English subtitles. While you probably aren't going to use this track to showoff your 7.1 home theater, it is well-mixed and clear.
The sparse special features include a modern-day interview with Beineix, conducted by Tim Rhys of Moviemaker Magazine. Beineix spends much of the time discussing the legendary Montand, who died shortly after shooting completed. The director also reveals his modesty when, with little prompting, he discusses how he is a great filmmaker and one of the greatest screenwriters of his generation. While the 16x9 aspect ratio is correct for the interview footage, the clips from the film are stretched. Other than that glaring problem, the quality is good.
The photo gallery features about 80 photos set on a 6:40-long track. There are some publicity-still-type material, but many of the photos capture candid behind-the-scenes moments, the best of which involve Martinez and Sall having fun with one another.
The gallery plays each still for five seconds, then automatically pauses, requiring the viewer to click through each photo one at a time. The selection could have benefitted from some selective editing. It becomes tiresome after a while, and a few of the shots are nearly identical.
There's also a skippable ad for the various films coming out in Cinema Libre's Beineix Collection (as well as an unrelated trailer).
IP5 could have been a charming little film, but instead it's insufferable nonsense. For those who feel differently about the it, Cinema Libre has put together a satisfying DVD.
Jeremy Mathews has been subjecting films to his criticism since 2000. He has contributed to several publications, including Film Threat, Salt Lake City Weekly, the Salt Lake Tribune, In Utah This Week and The Wasatch Journal. He also runs the blog The Same Dame and fronts the band NSPS.