Count­ing the days

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images -

20,000 Days on Earth, doc­u­men­tary/drama, not rated, Jean Cocteau Cinema, 3.5 chiles This quasi-doc­u­men­tary about 24 hours in the life of elu­sive Aus­tralian rocker Nick Cave on his 20,000th day since birth won film­mak­ers Iain Forsyth and Jane Pol­lard di­rect­ing and edit­ing awards at this year’s Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val. While it’s not un­scripted, there’s an ease to Cave’s nar­ra­tion in 20,000 Days on Earth as we watch him driv­ing his car, meet­ing with band mates and a Freudian therapist, delv­ing into his archives to look over mem­o­ra­bilia, and play­ing to en­rap­tured au­di­ences. It is a sim­ple premise un­der­scored by in­sights into and rev­e­la­tions about Cave’s cre­ative process, done with an in­tegrity that keeps the film from seem­ing like a van­ity project. That’s not bad for a semi­fic­tion­al­ized ac­count of a life, and Forsyth and Pol­lard paint the film with moody, dark, and in­ti­mate tones. Cave’s de­scrip­tions of his work­ing process and the trans­for­ma­tive magic of per­form­ing on stage are qui­etly com­pelling, while the mu­si­cal num­bers are elec­tric and en­thralling.

Over the course of this sin­gle day, Cave meets up with fel­low Bad Seeds mem­bers Warren El­lis and Blixa Bargeld and chats with Kylie Minogue, whose duet with Cave, “Where the Wild Roses Grow,” was a stand­out from his 1996 al­bum Mur­der Bal­lads. But the de­tails of con­ver­sa­tions are where the film finds much of its strength. When the fifty-seven-year-old mu­si­cian is asked if he still loves per­form­ing, he talks about be­ing trans­ported when he’s on­stage. His con­ver­sa­tion with therapist Dar­ian Leader shows Cave to be an artist whose past is still in­form­ing his present. If Cave is an out­sider, it’s not in the world of per­for­mance, but he does seem to be more re­moved from the world of fam­ily. When he states at one point that mem­ory is all we have, we sense that Cave has missed out on some things in life but cher­ishes what’s left.

See­ing the Bad Seeds be­fore a live au­di­ence is rea­son enough to watch. Their mu­si­cal num­bers play out like Apol­lo­nian/Dionysian strug­gles, with Cave at the pi­ano and or­ches­tral ac­com­pa­ni­ments that are in­tensely the­atri­cal. Be­tween these set pieces, Cave ap­pears to be con­sumed by his pas­sion for writ­ing; the men­tal cogs never seem to stop turn­ing. His abil­ity to find so much beauty in his in­ten­sive in­quiries into God, art, and the hu­man con­di­tion is in­spir­ing. Cave doesn’t come off as a haunted man so much as one whose iden­tity is wrapped up in a per­sona that is mul­ti­lay­ered and in ser­vice of a vi­sion. Scenes of Cave thumb­ing through old pho­to­graphs from his per­sonal ar­chive are telling and, per­haps more than any other parts of the film, can­did and hon­est. The line be­tween truth and re­al­ity is bliss­fully blurred in 20,000 Days on Earth, but it makes you won­der, wouldn’t that be true of any­one’s story? We see the Cave he wants us to see.

— Michael Abatemarco

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