Color, 1999, 86 mins. / Directed by Veit Helmer / Starring Denis Lavant, Chulpan Khamatova / First Run (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) / DD2.0, EuroVideo (Germany R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) / DD5.1

A film that wears its influences on its sleeve, Germany's Tuvalu tosses Lars Von Trier's The Element of Crime and Zentropa, the entire output of Jeunet and Caro, and Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times into a blender, resulting in a very peculiar viewing experience best targeted directly for the midnight movie crowd. Using Chaplinesque babble for dialogue and behavioral tics to convey almost all of the narrative, Tuvalu ultimately functions as a visual experience first and a coherent narrative second. Needless to say, those who jumped headfirst into Delicatessen will find plenty to enjoy here.

The thin strand of a storyline follows the misadventures of Anton (Beau Travail's Denis Lavant), who tries to save his family's doomed bathhouse from the clutches of his scheming brother, Gregor (Terrence Gillespie). Faced with a series of obstacles including threatened closure from the authorities and the possible disapproval of his blind father, Karl (Philippe Clay), Anton finds life becoming even more complicated with the arrival of Eva (Chulpan Khamatova), a winsome beauty who also catches Karl's eye after she and her father find refuge in this strange, Black Sea village. A treasure hunt involving the island of Tuvalu and other surreal mayhem rapidly ensue.

Shot in black and white and then tinted a la many silent films (along with fleeting use of manipulated color footage), Tuvalu coasts along smoothly on the basis of its sheer oddness and the ability to throw an unexpected, visual treat in the viewer's direction every few minutes. Those looking for substance will have to dig pretty deep, as the film never goes for more than superficial good/bad dichotomies and establishes an order in which cute wins out over ugly every time. So the best way to enjoy the film is simply to sit back, marvel at the production design (apparently a real pool in Bulgaria provides the main setting), and swim along in the cockeyed whimsy of it all.

First Run's DVD of Tuvalu offers a peculiar, non-anamorphic transfer which, like the German disc, shifts aspect ratios for no apparent reason, verging closer to 2.20:1 at times depending on the scene. Image quality is acceptable but difficult to evaluate given the delibrate grunginess of the visuals, coupled with the often heavily saturated tinting. Detail ranges from pin-sharp to soft and mushy, depending on the source material. The spacious Dolby Digital soundtrack offers plenty of surround activity, and obviously there are no subtitles to contend with for xenophobic viewers. The disc also includes the director's gimmicky 9-minute short film, "Surprise," which plays like a live action Wallace and Gromit escapade, as well as a still gallery.

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