Julien Donkey-Boy is a 1999 American drama film written and directed by Harmony Korine. The story concentrates on the schizophrenic Julien, played by Scottish actor Ewen Bremner, and his dysfunctional family. The film also stars Chloë Sevigny as Julien's sister, Pearl, and Werner Herzog as his father. Julien Donkey-Boy is the sixth film to be made under the self-imposed rules of the Dogme 95 manifesto, and the first non-European film to be made under the Dogme 95 "vow of chastity".
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Harmony Korine|
|Produced by||Cary Woods|
|Written by||Harmony Korine|
|Cinematography||Anthony Dod Mantle|
|Edited by||Valdís Óskarsdóttir|
|Distributed by||Fine Line Features|
The film opens on television footage of an ice dancer – a recurring motif in the film – before cutting away to Julien, a young man with untreated schizophrenia. In the opening scene, Julien meets up with a small child with several turtles, only to strangle him to death when he is denied one. Julien then buries the child under the mud and prays for mercy from God.
We see snapshots of Julien's dysfunctional family: his pregnant sister Pearl (it is implied that Julien could be the father); his brother Chris, an aspiring wrestler; his grandmother; and his domineering, German father, who shows no real love or encouragement to his family.
Rather than a linear narrative, we instead see various scenes and vignettes involving the main characters, such as Julien working at a school for the blind, going to confession, muttering to himself on the streets and imagining conversations with Hitler. Pearl meanwhile learns to play the harp, looks for baby clothes for her soon-to-be-born child, lists her favorite baby names and cuts her father's hair. Chris spends nearly the entire film working out and practicing wrestling moves on trash cans, even having a frustratingly unserious match with Julien. The father recounts historical stories, lambasts Julien and Pearl for "artsy-fartsy" poetry and being "a dilettante and a slut" respectively, and pines for his dead wife.
At the film's climax Pearl and Julien are at an ice-skating rink. Julien tries to sell some homemade skates to a Hasidic boy and Pearl takes to the ice despite being heavily pregnant. She trips, landing on her stomach and causing a miscarriage. At the hospital, Julien convinces a nurse to let him hold the baby, saying it is his. She allows it, but while alone with the baby, Julien escapes home on a bus.
Julien goes to his room, hides under the blankets, cradles the baby and mutters prayers. The film ends with ice-skating footage.
- Ewen Bremner as Julien
- Chloë Sevigny as Pearl
- Werner Herzog as Father
- Evan Neumann as Chris
- Joyce Korine as Grandma
- Chrissy Kobylak as Chrissy
- Victor Varnado as Rapper
- Brian Fisk as Pond boy
- Virginia Reath as Gynecologist
- Alvin Law as Card-playing neighbor
- Tom Mullica as Magician
- Ricky Ashley as Hasidic boy
- Carmela García as Nurse
Julien Donkey-Boy was the first American film made in accordance with the Danish filmmaking manifesto Dogme 95. It was shot in New York on MiniDV tape, the film was transferred to 16mm film before being blown up to 35mm film for the master print. Korine used this method to give the film a low-definition, grainy aesthetic.
The film utilizes several cinematographic styles, including stop-motion photography, parallel cuts, and still photographs in order to tell its story.
Korine broke a few of the Dogme 95 rules in making the film. For example, Dogme 95 stipulates that all props must be found at the location of filming. Julien's dead baby is a prop found in the maternity unit of the hospital where the scene was shot; it was used by the nurses there to practice pre-natal CPR. Also, all the camerawork is supposed to be handheld, but this film uses hidden cameras, technically not handheld. There is also non-diegetic music (Oval's "Mediaton" from Systemisch in the ice-skating scene, same group's "Shop In Store" from 94 Diskont), although it sounds like it alternates between diegetic and non-diegetic use. And finally, the director must not be credited; Korine is credited (however, the film only gives his name — it does not say "directed by Harmony Korine", just "Harmony Korine").
Despite these transgressions, the original Dogme 95 committee endorsed Julien Donkey-Boy. In an interview on the Epidemic DVD, Lars Von Trier, Dogme 95 co-creator, lauded Korine's ability to interpret the rules creatively.
The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September 1999. It received a limited release in Los Angeles at a single cinema on October 15, 1999; the film showed for a month's time at the Los Angeles theater, and grossed a total of $80,226 by that November. It was given a wide theatrical release in European countries the following year, particularly in France and the Netherlands.
Critical reaction was negative and the film currently holds a 26% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 35 reviews. Based on 23 reviews, Julien Donkey-Boy has a 52/100 rating on Metacritic, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
Empire Magazine said that "Despite some creditable performances, Korine's bizarre, shambling direction renders the result less ground-breakingly experimental than rectum-numbingly dull." Edward Guthmann of the San Francisco Chronicle called the film "A self-indulgent mess."
Despite a sense of negative reaction to the film, it was praised by some critics. Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times gave the film a positive review, saying the film attained a "depth of compassion and understanding ... [it] acquires a spiritual dimension that allows it ultimately to become an act of redemption". Additional praise for the film came from Chicago Sun Times film critic Roger Ebert, who gave the film 3/4 stars, saying that "[The film] adds up to something, unlike a lot of movies where individual shots are sensational, but they add up to nothing"; Ebert did, however, note that the film had a very limited audience: "The odds are good that most people will dislike this film and be offended by it. For others, it will provoke sympathy rather than scorn. You know who you are".
- "JULIEN DONKEY-BOY (15)". Metro Tartan Distribution. British Board of Film Classification. June 14, 2000. Retrieved February 26, 2014.
- Julien Donkey-Boy at Box Office Mojo
- "Box office/Business for Julien Donkey-Boy". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved October 9, 2009.
- Julien Donkey-Boy at Rotten Tomatoes Retrieved February 26, 2014
- Julien Donkey-Boy at Metacritic Retrieved February 26, 2014
- "Review: Julien Donkey-Boy". Empire Magazine. Retrieved October 10, 2009.
- Guthmann, Edward (October 29, 1999). "Low-Tech 'Julien' is an Ugly Mess- Korine throws aesthetics out the window". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved October 9, 2009.
- Thomas, Kevin (October 15, 1999). "L.A. Times Review: Julien Donkey-Boy". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on August 16, 2009. Retrieved October 10, 2009.
- Ebert, Roger (November 5, 1999). "Julien Donkey-Boy Review". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved October 9, 2009.