Mr. Nobody is the finest film I’ve ever seen that hardly anyone has ever heard about. If you are interested in great cinema, or simply in imaginative storytelling and story construction then you owe it to yourself to see this unknown masterpiece.
Mr. Nobody is a 2009 Belgian, German, French, Canadian co-production, set in England and Canada and filmed in English. It was made on a budget of around $47 million, but looks like it cost at least three times that. Compared to a Hollywood product like The Adjustment Bureau, which cost $55 million and looked like a feature-length episode of Fringe,the money is up there on screen. It is written and directed by Jaco Van Dormael (best known for Toto the Hero) and stars Jared Leto, Sarah Polley, Diane Kruger, Linh Dan Pham, Rhys Ifans and Natasha Little, and in the full 158 minute director’s cut is one of the most thematically and visually ambitious science fiction films you will ever see. The trailer does not begin to do this masterpiece justice and that this astonishing film is all but unknown is a cinematic scandal. To get a rough idea, imagine Inception as a European art film (which isn’t such a stretch), or a movie as boldly ambitious as Cloud Atlas, but which works, because it was conceived directly for the screen rather than being an adaptation of an unfilmable book.
We begin at the end of this century when the last surviving mortal man is about to die. His memories are confused. No one knows who he is. Hence the title. There is some doubt as to whether he should be allowed to die at all, or be preserved as a living link to the pre-immortal past. This is open to public vote, reality TV style. Meanwhile Mr. Nobody looks back over his life, and things begin to get very complex. He remembers three different personal histories, each of which have their own branches. He falls in love with and marries three very different women. He lives in England, he grows up in Canada. Maybe the future sequences are actually his imaginings from the past… Mr. Nobody is paradoxical, enigmatic. It might not even be science fiction at all.
The film is visually astonishing, from the meticulous, colour-coded production design to the breathtaking cinematography, in places easily surpassing Terry Gilliam at his finest. Indeed, Mr Nobody reminds me of Gilliam at his best, when his work isn’t just an exercise in style. Equally the interlocking lives and stories turning on a single decision, the coincidence of a moment, the colour motifs, recall Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colours Trilogy. But this is much more ambitious filmmaking, spanning a century, two continents and a spaceship bound for a Martian colony.
The full 158 minute director’s cut is simply one of the best films I have ever seen. According to Magnolia Pictures the version being released in America runs 155 minutes. There is also a 141 minute version which has been shown theatrically in some countries. If you can’t see Mr. Nobody on the big screen then the director’s cut is available on excellent Blu-rays in the UK and Canada. Both releases feature a fine 45 minute making-of documentary. The Canadian version is region free and can easily be imported into the US. The UK version is locked to region B. Mr Nobody has also been released on Blu-ray in France, Germany, Sweden, Poland and possibly other countries. Avoid DVD editions, the ravishing design, complex colour scheme and elegant (shaky-cam free) deep focus cinematography demand the full 1080p.
If you have any interest in serious science fiction (and serious cinema), the sort which challenges your perceptions and makes you think about what you have seen for days afterwards, you owe it to yourself to make an appointment with Mr. Nobody. It is the best ‘new’ film you will have seen since Inception. Just watch next year’s Oscars ignore it, as they always ignore anything fresh, new and original.
Update: It’s now October 2014, and as predicted the Academy completely failed to notice arguably the best film released in the US in 2013.