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Cinema Review: 20,000 Days on Earth (*****)

Lorna Irvine reviews a film 'as rich, stylised and lyrical as any decent music film should be'.

Australian singer, writer and director Nick Cave has been a film star before, notably as a child murderer in John Hillcoat's prison drama Ghosts of the Civil Dead and as himself, pre-show in Wim Wenders' Wings Of Desire and Uli M Schueppel's concert documentary The Road to God Knows Where. But this film is entirely different: part day-in-the-life, part psychodrama in which he plays a version of himself. And of course, given that he became a massive rock star almost by accident, this is no conventional linear mockumentary.

Co-written with Cave, this is Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard's debut feature. And it's as rich, stylised and lyrical as any decent music film should be. Tracking Cave through his adopted hometown of Brighton, which is filmed in glorious sunshine and in night-time drives, culminating in two live shows, there is an intimacy and humour which cuts through its occasional pomposity.

So, the viewer is treated to wry Nick as a cabbie (with scenes reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch's Night On Earth ) picking up Kylie, with whom he talks waxworks and fame, Ray Winstone, exchanging more conventional banter and, most movingly, ex-bandmate Blixa Bargeld, who gets quite emotional as the two acknowledge reasons why they can't work together anymore.

The most wonderful juxtaposition that occurs is the mock-counselling: a soft-spoken, charming Cave seemingly receiving psychiatric questioning by an Alain de Botton lookalike, with home life of the dad and his young twins Arthur and Earl enjoying pizza and Pacino's Scarface (how delightful- a real Kodak moment!) or swapping anecdotes about Nina Simone over dinner with friend and musician Warren Ellis.

It is here that the role of unreliable narrator is explored: did Cave really have the first chapter of Lolita read to him by his preacher father as a child? Did his first girlfriend really dress him in hotpants and heels? If so, it all makes sense...

But this is, above all, for Cave admirers, and the shown deconstruction of songwriting is a fascinating process—even for those with merely a passing interest in those epic songs and that throaty baritone. It is the concert footage at the finale that is the real star, and the fire and brimstone drama of his live shows. Stagger Lee sounds ready to ignite, and Push the Sky Away shimmers like a spectral hymn. After all, the self-confessed 'cartoon cannibal' knows that the song, as ever, is the thing.

20,000 Days on Earth (15)

Dir: Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard

Starring: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Kylie Minogue, Blixa Bargeld, Ray Winstone
Tags: cinema

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