My own private Idaho – la critique

Résumé : Scott and Mike are prostitutes and lovers. But if Scott, whose father is very rich and whom he hates, has a future all mapped out, Mike, meanwhile, stalked by his memories, frequently sinks into attacks of narcolepsy. During a trip to Italy, a meeting will upset them and change their relationship forever.

Critique : The title evokes with a childlike familiarity, almost disconcerting, this place both real and mythical which crystallizes the aspirations of Mike (River Phoenix), a young prostitute in search of his mother and whose portrait the film paints. Haunted by his ghosts, he wanders in the company of the vagabonds of Portland, in search of an illusory and lost happiness that he tries to find with Scott (Keanu Reeves). But it is at the risk of getting lost. The first sequence, located on a road of which he seems a prisoner, says well the wandering to which the character is condemned. Ditto for these violent bouts of sleep which let appear, on the screen, a flood of accelerated images, made threatening by the recurrence of obsessive motives – the house, the mother.
Most My own private Idaho also paints the portrait of Scott, Mike’s lover who appears above all (the ambiguity, of course, is not accidental) as an enemy brother. Son of the mayor, he must indeed touch an inheritance which, contrary to Mike, will put him definitively at the shelter of the need. As always with Gus Van Sant, the birth of desire and the difficult choices of adolescence are evoked with great accuracy, in particular thanks to the attention paid to the actors. The interpretation of River Phoenix – award-winning at Venice – thus skilfully crosses an assumed theatricality (delirious crises of snoring) and a felted but powerful psychological realism – scene of declaration of love to Scott or meeting with the “brother”. The quest for the mother, the common thread of the story, opens the way to an epic imagination that offers the audacity of Gus Van Sant a privileged terrain to explore the themes that are dear to him.
The filmmaker delivers here a patchwork of experiments that energize the film and put our sensitivity on edge. We would get lost in the inventory of processes which, in turn, have fun breaking any effect of realism: surprising ellipses, snatched camera movements, sudden accelerations. These effects which, in so many others, would seem to us mechanical or forced, marry with precision the subject of the scenario writer. Of course, this one never abandons his film to pure experimentation, and certain comic sequences, like the one where the covers of porn magazines come to life, seduce and amuse with their deliberate kitsch. They also remind us that the illusion is a very uncertain escape from adolescent malaise.
Because it is indeed under the aegis of this mysterious and baroque illusion (that of Shakespeare) that the feature film is located. The camera stops for moments to give us scenes of pure theatricality (certain dialogues are borrowed from the play Henry IV), evoking with grandiloquence the stakes of influence and power that this vague story of inheritance and quest for the mother disguises. The apogee of the device lies of course in the sequences where the Mike/Scott couple rub shoulders with the vagabonds of Portland, dominated by the charismatic and tutelary figure of Bob Pidgeon. Gus Van Sant, as Baz Luhrmann will do later, forcefully restores all the violence of Shakespeare’s language, without ever sacrificing the depth of the subject to the modernity of the style. In this he succeeds in the daring bet of a film that is both formally disconcerting and psychologically very strong. A real adventure, at the crossroads of the filmmaker’s preoccupations with adolescence or America.

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