Wondrous imagery undermined by difficult character in the straight, older brother
Lyrical and transcendent, or a tedious bore––“Far Side of the Moon,” will probably not generate indifference. This visually stunning Canadian film written, directed, and starring Robert Lepage in two roles, is a highly stylized feature that will appeal to discerning viewers who like finding meanings in doubles and symmetry. All others, beware.
The story concerns two brothers, Philippe, a straight telemarketer who has written an published Ph.D. dissertation that suggests space exploration was motivated by narcissism, and André, a gay meteorologist who is involved with Carl (Marco Poulin), a banker. While Philippe and André are brothers of different ages, they could very well be twins, as they look identical––“even the ass” Carl says when he meets Philippe in a sauna one afternoon.
Yet “Far Side of the Moon” goes to great lengths to explore the brothers’ differences—they are in fact, worlds apart. André is rich, coupled, confident, and happy, while Philippe is broke, single, lacking in self-esteem, and miserable. What is more, after decades of a sibling rivalry for the affections of their mother (Ann-Marie Cadieux), Philippe is unwilling to accept the terms of her inheritance after her death, a paltry $5,000 left to André perhaps as a settling up in their competition.
If the film’s plot lacks true drama, Lepage creates many intriguing scenes and visuals to express the theme of dualities. “Far Side of the Moon,” which originated as a one-man theater piece, was shot using high definition digital technology. The filmmaker constantly employs the use of mirrors, windows, and lenses to seamlessly match characters and images and move the action forward. A tower Philippe constructs at his desk in one scene becomes a rocket in the next, and an umbilical cord for a baby segues into a lifeline for a cosmonaut. The endless fascination with space serves as a terrific metaphor for the characters, and these themes are well represented throughout the film.
The earthly images are truly stunning as well. A sequence in which Philippe as a teenager storms the house where his younger brother is playing Led Zeppelin, smoking grass, and reading a porno magazine is magical as the youth literally climbs over the landscape, and peers into the bedroom window with just his eyes. Another scene involves Philippe suffering a trauma during Neil Armstrong’s historic walk on the moon.
But for all of this wondrous imagery, the film has some very rough patches. Philippe has a seemingly endless monologue at a bar in which he tirelessly prattles on about his life, dreams, regrets, and expectations, forcing the bartender to close up early, in an effort to get him to shut up. Even though this episode reveals much about Philippe’s character—and may explain why his dissertation has twice been rejected—it has the effect of sucking life out of the film, bringing the action to a screeching halt. Philippe proves to be a difficult character to care about despite the fact that “Far Side of the Moon” takes pains to earn him sympathy.
The film is also overripe with symbolism, the duality of the brothers notwithstanding. A goldfish, left behind by Philippe and André’s mother becomes a bone of contention between the two siblings, and its fate another defining moment in the film that will either be embraced or shrugged off by audiences.
It is disappointing that a film so rich in imagery comes up short with its characters and story. Lepage is certainly a talented filmmaker and, largely unknown in the U.S., he should command attention here. His visionary work on the stage has gained him worldwide fame. He does an admiral job playing both Philippe and André, even if the gay brother has significantly less screen time. It may be Lepage’s own exercise in narcissism to take on writing, directing, and acting in this unusual film, but it mostly works. In support, the pierced and tattooed Poulin is ingratiating in his scenes.
“Far Side of the Moon” builds to an interesting and appropriate ending, but it is one likely to satisfy only the most patient viewers.