"Wristcutters: A Love Story" is the directorial debut of Croatian Goran Dukic, who developed the script at the Sundance Screenwriters Lab in 2004, based on a short story by Israeli writer/actor Etgar Keret titled "Kneller’s Happy Campers". Dukic studied cinema in Zagreb and later at the American Film Institute, specializing in shorts. One of them, "Mirta uci statistiku" (1991), was critically well received, heralded as one of the best Croatian films. Dealing with the controversial subject of suicide, Wristcutters, after being a nominee at Sundance 2006 for the Grand Jury Award, won the best feature award in the Gen Art Film Festival and nominations for best first feature and best script in the Independent Spirit Awards (2007).
Going back to the plot: "I think she cried at my funeral. I don't mean to brag", Zia tell us after dying and being buried, supposing Desiree would have attended his burial throwing flowers on his coffin and crying over his loss. The next morning Zia presents to us the new reality he has to face now in the afterlife, where he works as an employee in the grime "Pizzeria Kamikaze" in the suburbs; every morning he contemplates his unhappy face in a distorting mirror while he's dressing in a dull uniform.
In this somber afterworld, where things are really the same as they were in the living world, only slightly worse, the conversations among the deceased citizens are about the method they chose to "off" themselves. The jukeboxes play Joy Division songs in the bars, as one night a girl named Tania (Azura Skye) confesses to Zia she opted for sticking her head in an oven and writing a suicide note. When Zia sits down with her friend Rachel (Sarah Roemer), a funny Russian ex-rocker approaches Zia and he tells him how he electrocuted himself at a concert by pouring beer over his guitar, angered by an ungrateful audience.
"I was missing Desiree" is the obsessive theme in Zia's mind as he embarks on a trip in the company of this caustic new buddyEugene (Shea Whigham), who is based on the real life rocker Russian-Ukranian Eugene Hütz, leader of the Gypsy punk band "Gogol Bordello", which contributed to the soundtrack with three songs, "Occurances at the Border", "Through the Roof and Underground", and "Huliganjetta". The reason for searching for Desiree is obviously because she has killed herself too and Zia needs to find her at any cost.
As they travel in a tacky orange car through a drab landscape, the men initiate a friendship and a no-return escapist adventure en route to the Eastish zone - hinting at a "de-westernization" - forming a male bond until a young female hitchhiker named Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon) joins them in pursuit of a mistrial. She wants her case to be rejudged by the PIC (People In Charge), which would bring her back to the living land, since she claims she didn't intent to die, she just got a heroin overdose by accident and she hates wandering around this parched monotonous limbo: "Everybody is an asshole", "Who the hell wants to be stuck in a place where you can't even smile?" she whines while both men listen to her rants, progressively seduced by her beauty and her non-comforming spirit.Tom Waits turns up as Kneller, the mysterious angel-prophet of a desert camp where people can learn to perform miracles and he shows great sympathy toward Zia when he gives the insightful warning to him that small miracles are possible if you don't force them. "As long as you want it so bad, it's not going to happen", he says in his usual raspy voice.Zia, the impressionable slacker, and Mikal, the gothic nymph, begin a strange relationship that neither seems to be able to articulate appropriately, although deep down they know they were meant to be, as in the beach scene when Zia tells Mikal he feels happy with her and he'd like to go back to his past life and start anew.The most symbolic shot for me (and which the film's poster is based on), out of all of the symbolic imagery used by Dukic, like flying lit matches, withered flowers or black loopy holes, is when Zia and Mikal wake up surrounded by a sea of condoms and needles, a saturated reminder of an upcoming world inbred by our own societal depression and promiscuity.
Of course, lots of the suicides in the afterlife are now regretful of their actions and wish to escape the bureaucracy in "Offland", some of them using bizarre methods, as trying to separate body and soul which a famous cult leader self-proclaimed the Messiah (Arrested Development's Will Arnot) is preaching to his crowd of desperate followers. His soulmate happens to be Zia's ex-girlfriend Desiree, who lives with him in a fairy tale castle.
There are funny cameos with Eugene's mother (Mary Pat Gleason), Little Kostya (Chase Ellison), Brian (Jake Busey), and Erik (Abraham Benrubi from Parker Lewis series) and the tone is alternately dark and warm, bittersweetness on the road, good-natured antiheroes who deserve a second chance, and the atmosphere of sincere dottiness avoids falling into the trap of excessive "trendy quirks" that plague some low-budget films. "Quirk is odd, but not too odd. That would take us all the way to weird, and there someone might get hurt," is Michael Hirschorn's opinion in his article "Quirked Around".
If that is the case, Wristcutters: A Love Story is definitely located in a fictional Weirdland, where we are mostly shown a real, hurtful, personal aspect to this timeless story".
Published on 6th January in Blogcritics.org.
Watch "Wristcutters: A Love Story" video. Song "Ashes of American Flags" by Wilco.