Artisan // 1995 // 117 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // December 20th, 2003
One American soldier would change their lives...forever.
Patrick grows up in a small French town totally isolated from the rest of the world. His mom was blinded in one eye during the German occupation and his dad is a "hands on" veterinarian who loves the feel of stallion neutering in the morning. When the Americans step in and occupy France, their discarded garbage becomes a treasure trove for these culturally deprived wine makers. Specifically, Patrick and his death-obsessed sweetie Marie-José take old coke bottles, movie magazines, and discarded Betty Crocker boxes and decorate their lakeside love shack with them. They worship Western consumerism in their spare time. Meanwhile, all Pat wants to do is screw. All Marie-José wants to do is whine and be possessive. As they grow older, Patrick becomes infatuated with the two new things in town: hot jazz and the even hotter Trudy, the blond bimbette daughter of a GI. Enter into all their lives Sgt. Will Caberra, a hard-boiled bigot who enjoys cool bebop but hates basically all races. He befriends Patrick (giving him a set of drums) and seduces Marie-José (with his spiffy American car) and as the movie progresses, he is always around to give people fudged up, profusely sweaty advice. When a tragedy occurs, everyone must learn some really cornball lessons about identity, tradition in the face of modern progress, and linebackers. For one small part of Europe, an arrogant, angry American teaches these pukes from Provence that there is a whole New World out there. And we wonder why there's so much anti-USA sentiment.
New World is a foolish foreign film that combines every awful American cliché about western culture and life in the "I Like Ike" nightmare of the 1950s and turns them into one stagnant cesspool of putrid patronizing that never once acknowledges the North American contribution to continued frog sovereignty. It loves to hurl criticism for being uncouth while cementing its own polluted Eiffel awfulness. There hasn't been this much nostalgia for the good old days of segregation, juvenile delinquency, and outrageous space-age color schemes since a certain Italian delinquent holed up with a red headed idiot, his hardware store owner father, and a couple of ditzy dames on the sitcom side. To say that this movie has an anti-USA bias is like suggesting Osama bin Laden is just a tad miffed at Christianity and those who practice it. This French-made hate-fest wants to show how your average GI-Joe swaggers into a charming, quaint locale and spreads his fractured, fouling pheromones all over their countrified classical civilization. Your regular Parisian enjoys a Chopin etude. Your beer swilling buffalo killer loves rock and roll, or if he's an ex-African, bebopping jazz (which the French can also appreciate, using the "If you can't beat them, fear and respect them" mentality that most of Europe has with immigrants...and invaders). When these worlds collide, it's like brioche topped with spiced processed hog by-product, a spoiled sandwich that tastes just as bad coming up as it does going down.
Honestly, this movie makes very little sense. The notion of viewing teenage sex is disgusting to the more mature human mind, and yet the storyline in New World revolves almost exclusively around our hero, Patrick, getting his roches off. Between the twin temptresses in his life, the all-USA Trudy and the morose, morbid Marie-José, here is more heavy petting than at a baby animal sanctuary. Unless the notion of waif-like 16 year olds (even if they are played by twentysomethings) groping each other in faux fever and complaints about erection hardness float your fetish, this film may not be for you. Like some Lourdes Larry Clark, this booty-obsessed bomb will rub you the wrong way (any film with 10 year olds making out has got some serious issues). One could argue that the American ideal of making sex filthy is what is driving this film's lurid look at entangled éclair lovers bumping laidements. But if the frank and open nature of those naughty ninnies from Nice is any indication, a little personal humiliation amongst pre-adolescents would be welcome. And even James Gandolfini gets into the sex act, copping feels and groping a sixteen year old like she's mob cash or hijacked cigarettes. Between the wussed out Pat, who's lucky he can find a girl who'll even look at his vacant ass, to Tony Soprano as a near-pedophile, a bastion of sex therapists straight from Vienna would have a field day with this icky flick.
But there is another, less tangible terribleness to a New World, for this film might as well have been called The Ugly American Listens to Jazz. Yanks are constantly depicted as bubble-headed racists more than happy to throw their ethnic differences aside to take pleasure in endless ersatz Coltraine. Indeed, why there are so many musical interludes in this film is anyone's guess. They don't forward the plot (usually they kill the storyline dead in its derriere) and they go on for what seems like an augmented ninth. And the dilemma comes while championing something as special, as pure, and as intricate as America's original music within such creatively void setting. It's almost as if the filmmakers are saying "see, USA, you suck big fat ones and all, but you can sure blow a block chord cadence, so we'll forgive you your sense of global superiority and overall slob sensibilities. Uh Huh Huh!" So as you tap your toes and be your bop, you'll also shake your fist at the one-sided circumstances in which Miles Davis and Charlie Parker are blasphemed, just for a little Cannes comeuppance. New World really isn't about its insecure hero who, through music and the modernizing influences of American soldiers, learns to appreciate his family and surroundings. No, it's a cheap shot serving of ungrateful quiche from a country whose main export is still egomaniacal self-importance. Sure, they've got the Louvre and tasty cuisine, and there's no denying the centuries of history, but remove all the local color, the horse gelding, and calf abortion (oh yeah, this stuff's in there), and all you have are a bunch of negative Norman Rockwell images. Everything in this New World is the same old snooty Louis XIV feces.
Artisan's stingy standard is welcome here, since anything championing this indignant dullness would be a waste of time. So all we get is a 1.33:1 full frame image that is colorful if a little muddy, without consistent crispness or clarity. The movie must have been filmed in some other aspect ratio since the close-ups cut off faces and features and there is a center of the scene composition to the shots, whether anything is happening there or not. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo serves the musical numbers well. The jazz and early rock and roll standards really glimmer in this format, but the dubbed dialogue is flat and mixed low. So after the sonic blasts of bass and brass, get ready to fear for your hearing when the characters speak. If this had been a better film, a behind-the-scenes or interview collection would have helped explain some of the strange (mother's blindness, horse gelding) and controversial (all that underage boinking) material offered. But because this film eats snail enemas, no amount of contextual caterwauling can make it palatable.
Like a heavy sauce sitting on top of a strange rustic dish of braised BS, New World will bloat in your belly until you ache with unexpelled waste product. The only thing you can do is take a purgative and hope it flushes the French right out of you.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Rated R