The Pelvis of J.W.

Aphilosophical comedy with serious religious overtones about God, Lucifer and John Wayne, this new epic from Portuguese director Joao Cesar Monteiro is as wildly original as his previous movies. Pic could provide the launching pad for a retrospective of the idiosyncratic oeuvre of a filmmaker whose unique sensibility has been acknowledged in Europe but is almost totally unfamiliar in the U.S.

Aphilosophical comedy with serious religious overtones about God, Lucifer and John Wayne, this new epic from Portuguese director Joao Cesar Monteiro is as wildly original as his previous movies. Pic could provide the launching pad for a retrospective of the idiosyncratic oeuvre of a filmmaker whose unique sensibility has been acknowledged in Europe but is almost totally unfamiliar in the U.S.

Defying any recognizable trends in the international cinema today, Monteiro’s eccentric universe unfolds like a cross between a long dream and an intellectual dissertation. “The Pelvis of J.W.” is probably more demanding and less intriguing than either “Recollections of the Yellow House” (1989) or “God’s Comedy” (1995), movies that won prizes in Venice and at other festivals.

The new film centers on two male characters: Jean de Dieu and Henrique (played by Monteiro), who are acting in Strindberg’s play “The Inferno,” in which de Dieu plays Lucifer and Henrique plays God. Offstage, de Dieu is the director of the play and Henrique an adventurous sailor who considers John Wayne’s sexy swagger to be nothing short of divinity.

De Dieu introduces Henrique to an author who writes a scenario in which the two men meet another mythical character, Ariane (symbol of liberty). As the two walk leisurely around town, a certain verbal rivalry between them becomes manifest.

Monteiro displays droll humor in playing on the public’s notions of — and anxieties concerning — God and Lucifer. Cerebral conversations about various topics, ranging from the most obscure to the most mundane, are often interrupted by irreverent, illogical moments and gentle humor.

Monteiro creates a distinctive world with technical assuredness and emotional control. As a stylist, he favors single, extended takes — the first sequence is an awesome theatrical tableau — avoiding close-ups as much as possible. For mainstream American moviegoers, the movie runs the risk of appearing too symbolic and pretentious, but for cinephiles, it represents a stimulating philosophical journey through some of Western civilization’s sacred ideas. Boasting one of modern cinema’s most creative and sophisticated minds, Monteiro belongs to a league of his own.

The Pelvis of J.W.

(Le Bassin de J.W.) (PORTUGUESE-FRENCH)

Production: A Euripide/Fabrica de Imagens production. Produced by Jose Mazeda, Daniel Toscan du Plantier, Frederic Sichler. Executive producer, Joao Fonseca. Directed, written by Joao Cesar Monteiro.

Crew: Camera (color), Mario Barroso; editor, Carla Bogalheiro; production design, Nelson Fonseca, Jorge Spencer. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 10, 1997. Running time: 145 MIN.

With: With: Joao Cesar Monteiro, Pierre Clementi, Hughes Quester.

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