Saturday, December 13, 2008

Man on Wire ***1/2

Director: James Marsh

On the morning of August 7, 1974 as the citizens of New York City got started on their normal day; 25 year old, Frenchman, Philippe Petit high-wire walked between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
Regarded as the most famous artistic crime in history, Petite and his adventurous spectacle are the subject of James Marsh's absolutely magical documentary where through the use of reenactments and interviews with the participants he crafts an inspirational tale of making your dreams come true, in whatever shape they happen to come.
The energetic Petit (imagine a less vicious looking Malcom McDowell with a dash of Roberto Beningni's spirit...just a dash though) recounts how the idea began when he saw the plans to build the Towers in a magazine while he waited in his dentist's office.
If he also created the first optimistic thought to come out of a dentist's waiting room and this otherwise irrelevant fact makes you smile, then the rest of the film with its combination of genre pastiche and sideshow storytelling will win you over completely.
Petite refers to his life as a "fairy tale", his impish features aid this affirmation, as he describes how he became a high-wire walker (he liked to climb things) and how this led him to seek new, challenging places to perform his act.
After performing in Notre Dame de Paris (where the images shown give you goosebumps and a weird rush of spiritual bliss) and a bridge in Sydney, Australia, he held the Twin Towers as his destiny.
"The Towers were built for him" affirms ex-girlfriend Annie Allix, avoiding any sort of resentment people are supposed to have for others who aren't in their lives anymore. As with the rest of the crew who helped him with the Twin Towers walk, who have nothing but admiration for his feat and feel fortunate to have been a part of it even if most of them have become estranged from him.
A story about world cooperation and people coming together, Marsh's approach infuses the film with as much humanism as excitement.
Petite's crew was made out of people from various nationalities who all got together to help someone else achieve his dream.
How did he come in contact with them and why did they choose to trust him? Nowadays if a stranger suggested an idea like his', a claim of terrorism would come faster than anything else.
Back then however, the world was dealing once again with the reaffirmation of hope, Petite's Quixotic enterprise was the perfect way to top off the new levels being reached by the Towers, which were the tallest man made structures on the planet.
In a way "Man On Wire" reminds us of what made the United States the land of dreams once and for Petite it summarizes the idealistic idea of the immigrant experience.
The director's greatest achievement might be his ability to create suspense where there shouldn't be any (illusion if a constant motif in the film and its interpretations).
He shapes some moments into scenes out of a heist movie (the plan for "the coup" was brilliantly laid out by a group of artistic criminals) and Marsh is capable of creating real thrills and somehow retain the kind of mystery that has your heart racing while your head seems to obviate the fact that things went as planned.
To doubt if Petite will survive during his act is one of the many joyful tricks the film plays on you. "If I die, what a beautiful death" he proclaims remembering the fateful day as he recreates the walk in the studio where he is interviewed.
If the man can't be contained by an interviewer's chair, those Towers stood no chance. Most of the time Petite makes you feel as if he owns the world and you can't judge him by putting lives in peril and defying the law itself (misdemeanors but criminal actions nevertheless).
"They don't know how to react to a daydreaming wirewalker" he says completely elated by his place in the history of an iconic place and time.
Remarkably Marsh makes no reference to the eventual disappearance of the Towers, instead showcasing their majestuosity which aided Petite's adventure.
You know that the Towers are gone now, but for an instant they represent the wire Philippe walks on; their presence threatened by fleeting time, but their essence a reminder of why people still dare to dream.

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