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Cannes 2009: The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus

 Heath Ledger’s final film has screened at Cannes – and sad to say, it’s not the strongest swansong you could hope for.

Showing out of competition, Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus casts the late actor in a shady, slippery role that gives him only intermittent chance to shine.

But then this isn’t so much an actors’ movie, the biggest success being art direction that conjures memorable flights of fancy in the face of a clearly limited FX budget.

Such as it is, the story starts in present-day London, where Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) roams with his travelling sideshow, The Imaginarium.

Punters are given the chance to pass through the looking glass and luxuriate in their own unfettered imaginations.

This mobile gateway to adventure adds another member to its troupe when it comes across shifty outsider Tony (Ledger) in dire circumstances.

Meanwhile, we discover Parnassus is locked in a deadly bet with the Devil (Tom Waits); if he doesn’t entice five souls before daughter Valentina’s (Lily Cole) 16th birthday, she’ll become Satan’s property.

Let the set-pieces commence… Gilliam stays close to his Python roots with images of giant heads and shoes and a musical number that goes ‘Join the fuzz – we like violence!’

Solving the problem of Ledger’s mid-production demise, each trip to the Imaginarium sees his character  (based, reportedly, on ex-PM Blair) played by a different actor – Jude Law, Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp, the latter most at ease amid the melee.

Thankfully, the conceit doesn’t jar in this anything-goes universe; what does jolt, though, is our macabre introduction to Ledger – a sight that briefly jerks you out of wonderland and into the real world.

But for the most part Gilliam has toned down the aggressive darkness of his last film, Tideland, pitching at the broader audience he reached for with Baron Munchausen and Brothers Grimm.

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Total Film

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