My Brother’s Wedding (1983)

2 03 2008

In recent months, Charles Burnett’s work has gone under a bit of a critical evaluation. This is most likely due to Milestone’s (excellent) new DVD release. The praise of American independent filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh and David Gordon Green doesn’t hurt I suppose. Still, most of this new publicity focuses on Killer of Sheep, Burnett’s influential full feature debut, while his follow-up, My Brother’s Wedding, is written of as the “lesser” just like it was after it’s disastrous premiere in 1983. In my opinion, if it’s not masterpiece, it’s pretty damn close.

Pierce Mundy works with his parents at a local dry cleaner. He has no idea what he wants in life. Growing in a lower class neighborhood, he’s upset with his brother’s decision to marry a upper-class women. In the meantime, Soldier, an old friend of Pierce, is released from prison and old relationships are renewed. However, all is still not wellas Pierce continues to live his life without finding any glimpse of happiness.

Burnett’s film has plenty of rough spots, most notably the acting, which can range from very okay to mechanical. Technical limitations mare the film too, but are far less noticeable. Despite the film’s obvious amateur feel, it comes off truthful, funny, and with a poignant sting. The narrative, which admittedly, hits close to home, takes it’s cues from Ozu’s Early Spring and also anticipates many recent American “mumblecore” movies. The similarities with Ozu don’t end there, though. Even with Burnett’s reputation as a follower of Cassavetes, I still think this film, for better or worse, is the closet any American director has come to recreating the spirit of Ozu. Now, this probably was not a conscious decision on Burnett’s part but for an Ozu enthusiast like myself, it’s clear as day. Marriage plays a large role in both universes and in this film, the protagonist isn’t particularly keen on getting married. Also, he’s attached with his parents. Sound familiar? Yes, the specifics are a bit different: here, our “hero” never gets married and his relationship with his parents isn’t as close as the one between Noriko and Shukichi in Late Spring.

Stylistically speaking, it definitely belongs in the same category of now prominent “shakycam-relationship” films and outside of one dinner table sequence, shares no aesthetic qualities with Ozu. In all fairness, though, it’s unlikely to see any film technically resemblant of Ozu. The stilted acting does remind me a bit of his films, though. One could argue instead of smiling and nodding, these people cover things up with biblical monologues and “Kids these days…” type of rants. The acting, as mentioned before, is really quite bad but it’s easy to get use to. The Ozu comparisons aren’t really my way of selling the film because it’s great in it’s own way. I just felt the need to point out a (tiny) parallel between two great filmmakers.

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One response

2 03 2008
wigwam

“One could argue instead of smiling and nodding, these people cover things up with biblical monologues and “Kids these days…” type of rants.”

man, seriously

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