What is your greatest fear?
From the opening montage of “person-on-the-street” talking heads (espousing replies ranging from “mystery moisture” to “Scientology”) exploring this issue, it’s already clear that filmmakers Gary Burns and Jim Brown are about to unleash a marvellously creative examination of modern life.
The last word goes to the soon-to-be-dubbed The Man of Today (Paul Ahmarani is ideally cast as the staid translator who doesn’t give a damn if the world ends, just so long as his own time on it expires before Armageddon). His logic and intellect inspire the TV journalist (Liane Balaban plays The Woman of Tomorrow with a fine sense of eagerness and fun) to concoct a customized journey for the avowed pragmatist through aspects of life largely ignored by her doubtful then gradually intrigued subject.
Picking up on the twin tones of lighthearted cajoling and serious discussions is John Abram’s original score. From wonderfully cheesy adventure music (replete with electronic strings and nimble xylophone colourings) to the credits-ending descending scale (happily belieing the far more contemporary measures as the roll begins), there’s an engaging link between what is said, seen and heard.
Loosely based on Nicole Védrès’ La vie commence demain (1949), TMOT magically travels the globe to meet some of TWOT’s best friends (including a one-on-one chat with Jean-Paul Sartre in all of his transparent, black-and-white glory—having TMOT book into the Hotel Moderne and a passing reference to Radiant Cities are deft bits of subtle detail).
Architect Shigeru Ban (TWOT’s “chums” play themselves) establishes the formula for nearly all of the ensuing stops. TMOT confesses “I love old buildings,” but soon comes to realize that the master creator maintains a healthy balance between erecting monuments to the egos of himself and his privileged clients while also donating his expertise to improve the plight of the suddenly homeless. (The various formats for his Paper Log House used by the UN are wonderful examples of repurposing architectural invention for the masses.)
The conversation with Alain de Botton (fortunately, the philosopher was in residence) probes the essential nature of man, even as the, perhaps, indefinable notions of good and evil share the stage with “everything is great” [extolled by the U.S.] and “life is suffering” [pulpits of all persuasions]. The thinker likes his art to either frighten or inspire—surprise has been far too overdone. TMOT takes some comfort in the allowance that “to be in the world,” it’s OK to be “a little crazy.”
Other visits include a poet (Christian Bök: “critics blind with hindsight”—one of several delightful lines), artist (Marlene Dumas finds subject matter lurking in her past, only awaiting the right moment and a touch of grace to bring brush to canvas—The Molester is truly awful and chilling), author (Rivka Galchen) and a pair of digital life recreators (Richard Dawkins and Craig Venter offer a ray of hope that—used properly—such elements as carbon could be “made” in the lab rather than extracted from the planet).
Somewhat uncomfortable, given the attempt to blame anarchists for the most recent hockey riots in Vancouver and the results of vrai uprisings currently raging in Syria and Libya, was Francis Dupuis-Déri’s assertion that [violent] protests (“We are just giving the rocks back to the police”) have been effective. By journey’s end, TMOT has a Walter Mitty moment, abandoning his me/I existence and stepping into the, now, alluring fray of civil disobedience.
The only major cautions in this broad discussion of life as we think we know it come from the conclusions of each segment. After substantially expanding his universe, TMOT merely says “Thanks” or “Have a nice day” and it’s on to the next. Of course, the real-life “cast” are not actors and their comments, naturally, are largely unscripted, but the revelations and gradual conversion of TMOT are less believable as, after discovering exciting truths, he just says “bye” and toddles out of frame.
That quibble aside, here’s a film that can’t help to provoke further discussion, with family, friends (and, hopefully, like-minded strangers) but might also lead to some solitary self-searching, or is that what we are afraid of most? JWR