Directed by Todd Philips
Crowned rather unexpectedly with the Golden Lion @ Venezia 2019, "JOKER" is less a film about the Batman’s devoted enemy, but a fable on the contemporary culture of humiliation.
Here's an idea that had nothing appealing on paper.
It could have been an n-ish adaptation of that generous source, the comic books. One that lately transformed Hollywood in a kindergarten for old boys still clinging on their toys.
Yet Todd Philips, who had already did his ranges with a few regressive comedies (“Road Trip", “Back to College", "Very bad Trip") promised to achieve here an adult and uncompromising piece of work.
A film d'auteur, though, dubbed by comments on our troubled times.
And yes, with an actor, Joaquin Phoenix, certainly admirable.
But one a little too naturally built for the part of a super villain that raised from the cradle of a martyred child.
Todd Philips’ intention is here transparent.
He turns the Joker, aka Arthur Flock, into the evil genius of a ruthless society. One that eats up the weak, and engenders monsters, out of the mold of social humiliation.
But JOKER's achievement does not reside so much in this kind of empathy (which is the least we could ask from a film on monsters).
Nor in the merciless mechanics that will lead the brave Arthur to its criminal madness: bullying, death of his mother, antipsychotic treatment gone wrong, a heavy destiny and screenplay.
The film is rather successful by its very slow paced decoction of this itinerary towards future crimes, which had been just postponed.
Even though not a remake of "Taxi Driver", as intended, the main lesson of Scorsese's film is here.
JOKER is situated in the same New York of the "70ies, a gigantic trash, as unctuous as Jokers' hair.
In both cases, the characters hide under their psychosis a much more common madness.
Both Arthur and Travis Bickle from "Taxi Driver" only demand to be looked at. And seen.
As they are both ordinary candidates to the Warholan 15 minutes, the only remnant of the American dream.
"Taxi Driver" was not ending by a mass murder, but by its character's relief, even though by death.
JOKER plunges again into those years, just to explain they were the premises of a nightmare that engulfs us now up to our neck. A nightmare where the thirst of celebrity must be paid with consented humiliation. And for which Arthur's mad laughter is a righteous background.
With Arthur Fleck, who dreams to be a stand up star, other landmarks of the end of the 70ies come to our mind. Those have been times when Christine Chubbuck, for example, a TV journalist, has performed a live suicide while she was presenting the News.
Sidney Lumet got there his inspiration for "Network", just a year after "Taxi Driver".
Those were also times for such as Andy Kauffman, a stand up genius, who interrogated as never before the public's hysteria with the thrills of live events.
All of JOKER is built on this unhealthy vertigo of acting out, the actual logics of live transmissions. And of TV.
'Why so serious?” was asking the previous version of the Joker, played by Heath Ledger under Christopher Nolan's direction.
"Why so much laughter?" is Joaquin Phoenix' JOKER asking to a world that projects on its skylight a waltz of puppets.
Ah, and behind this laughter, as fair as tyrannizing, Phoenix is, of course, a genius.
How could we ever doubt?
By Giulia Ghica Dobre