home | art & architecture | books & cds | dance | destinations | film | opera | television | theater | archives
Terry Gilliam has wrought a lovely bit of fun with The Brothers Grimm. The plot borrows liberally
from the Grimm brothers best-known (in the English-speaking realm) fairy tales,
breathing new life into them for a new generation. Director Gilliam plays quick and loose
with the historical Grimm brothers as well. Unlike the personages Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm,
Jake and Will are more a pastiche, a bit of Butch Cassidy and Sundance, a bit more of
Felix Krull (the most famous comic con artist in German letters), and a whole lot of
transformative mythologizing of Romantic heroes, the one as romantic dreamer and the other
as larger-than-life man of action.
Closer in spirit to Adventures of Baron Munchausen than any of Gilliams other work, The Brothers Grimm is a fast-paced, highly inventive visual feast. Some fairy-tale characters are computer-generated, some computer-enhanced, some of the merely low-tech flesh-and-blood type. Little Red Riding Hood, the Gingerbread Man, the flying poltergeist--all delight and terrify and astonish. The 500-year-old Mirror Queen (Monica Belluci) and her paramour Woodsman (Tomas Hanak) undergo spell-binding transformations on camera. The special effects employed for the Tower and the Enchanted Forest (shades of the Wizard of Oz duly noted), the careful detail in creating the Thuringian village, the use of authentic Czech locations all add vibrant color and rich texture, lending a dramatically realistic patina to the films illusions. The blending of precise visual details with the surreal dream-like quality of the fantastic characters and scenes also serve to underscore the films preoccupation with myth, where reality and fantasy merge and blur.
The historical Romantic era, when the brothers Grimm were collecting their folk tales, was a time of great uncertainty in
During this historically pivotal, but long overlooked, period, provincial, superstitious, semi-medieval
One of the most notable, and refreshing, aspects of The Brothers Grimm, is its restoration of the pre-Hitler-era cliches of
Jake believes in fairy tales, even though he is a con artist. He is also the scribe, and dedicated to accurately recording the folk tales as he and his brother encounter them. While having his head in the clouds and believing foolish things (he embodies the cliche of the Romantic dreamer), Jakes journey to find his one true love will, of course, be borne out in the end. In sharp contrast, realistic, hard-nosed brother Will tends toward the heroic bravura of action heroism, and his ability to turn the ladies heads by his physical prowess proves both a weakness and a saving grace. In the cliche of Romantic doubling, both brothers woo Angelika. Whom shall she favor, if either?. The romantic complications among these mere mortals, in turn, find doubling in the story at the heart of this film the Mirror Queens efforts to have herself brought back to youthful life and beauty, and her relationship with her love-slave, the shape-shifting Woodsman.
Gilliam foregrounds elements from Little Red Riding Hood (and The Sleeping Beauty), very rich psychological and symbolic material. Many scenes visually echo The Company of Wolves, an intense, if minor film by director Neil Jordan which explored Freudian wolf-man subtexts of sexual seduction. Gilliam has clearly been influenced by
While not one of Gilliams best efforts, The Brothers Grimm is a strong one. All the actors have fun hamming up their parts. The film is a visually sumptuous experience, a playful homage to the best-known Grimm fairy tales.
- Les Wright