REVIEW / FILM OPINION – More than a documentary on Michael Cimino, Jean-Baptiste Thoret offers a moving and fascinating film by going to find those who crossed the path of the filmmaker during, in particular, the shooting of “Voyage au bout de l’Enfer “.
On the road to Mingo Junction
With the documentary Michael Cimino, an American mirage, Jean-Baptiste Thoret takes us on a journey, not to the end of hell, but to the past, alongside people who have crossed the path of Michael cimino, filmmaker revealed with The Ducker (1974), Oscar winner with Journey to the end of hell (1978), then immediately deposed after the failure of The Gate of Heaven (1980). First we discover the inhabitants of Mingo Junction, this small Ohio village that hosted at the end of the 1970s part of the shooting of Journey to the end of hell. Simple people, who do not live in luxury, far from it, and who inevitably find pleasure in talking about their past life.
This is precisely what Michael Cimino managed to capture at the time and what the documentary wishes to find. By spending time with them, the filmmaker wanted to represent them as faithfully as possible. Everyone testifies today to His experience, of his memories or his favorite scene from the film. And quickly, it is their own story which takes precedence over the documentary.
A rare emotional power
As when a veteran recounts his memories of Vietnam after a discussion on the Russian roulette scene of Journey to the end of hell. Or when someone else describes their favorite scene from the movie. A seemingly innocuous moment in Cimino’s work, but which will remind this man of the memory of a deceased friend. Two heartbreaking passages because full ofa sudden emotion which overwhelms these two inhabitants of Mingo Junction, and us with it.
So, without warning, Michael Cimino, an American mirage manages to knock us down. Imbued withdeep melancholy, of a nostalgia for an era, even though Cimino has still not appeared on the screen. A daring choice, but in line with the filmmaker’s approach and which makes Jean-Baptiste Thoret’s documentary an atypical object. A very cinematographic documentary, shall we say, marked by shots of landscapes which are always based on emotion.
Journey to the end of hell, and Michael Cimino
Although an important part of the documentary takes place in Mingo Junction, the sequel is then guided by Cimino’s voice. Recordings that come from a long interview with Thoret for the Cinema Notebooks, ten years ago. A meeting that lasted several days, the filmmaker having, at the time, wanted to take the road with the journalist. Jean-Baptiste Thoret therefore reuses this voice from the past, which sometimes echoes our time. He also puts it in relation with other stakeholders, like Quentin Tarantino or Oliver Stone.
It is notably through the latter that the documentary offers an honest portrait of Cimino. Too often documentaries are made solely for the glory of a personality. Here, not all are entirely complimentary of the filmmaker. The film thus recalls his oversized ego. Cimino does not consider himself the equal of the directors of his time but above them. An ultimately complex, paradoxical character (Thoret will tell us that he both loves money and doesn’t care about it), like his films which have always looked for the gray areas of the characters. An anti-Manichaeism par excellence which was not understood when his films came out.
This was the case with The Gate of Heaven which ended in a huge failure and caused the bankruptcy of United Artists. A terrible disillusion that marked Cimino forever. The filmmaker subsequently managed to edit a few films before disappearing from the radar, until his death on July 2, 2016. Totally erased for years, real american mirage, it will still have offered a fascinating filmography. An artist apart who deserved a documentary as powerful and fascinating as the one proposed by Jean-Baptiste Thoret.
Michael Cimino, an American mirage by Jean-Baptiste Thoret, released on November 24, 2021.