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USA 1994
Directed by
Jeremy Leven
97 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Don Juan DeMarco

A self-confessed fable penned by director Jeremy Leven and made under the aegis of Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope studio, Don Juan DeMarco is a fun little film that unassumingly but effectively contrasts a commonsensical view of the world with one infused with poetic imagination.

Johnny Depp in one of the best variants on his familiar boho character plays a young man, Johnny DeMarco from Queens, New York wearing a full Zorro-like outfit and calling himself Don Juan DeMarco who is sectioned after he threatens to kill himself because of a broken heart and who becomes a patient of Brentwood Hospital psychiatrist Dr. Jack Mickler (a portly Marlon Brando). Mickler who is about to retire becomes fascinated by his patient’s indefatigable romanticization of his life and reflecting on his own existence begins to wonder if the charming young man isn’t the saner of the two.

The film is largely a colloquy between the two characters as they explore different interpretations of reality.  Mickler represents normative scientific rationalism with its categorising labels, “Don Juan” the quixotic romantic who invests the mundane with fantasies drawn,  it seems, from children’s adventure stories and soft-core porn magazines. To flesh out the debate Leven takes us to Mickler's home where he lives a comfortable but passionless life with his wife (an improbably gorgeous, apparently cosmetically-enhanced Faye Dunaway) on the one hand and into recreations of Johnny’s fantasies on the other.

To his credit Leven doesn’t get caught up in trying to simulate true delusional behaviour. Johnny DeMarco clearly knows what he is about but the point is that improbable as his pretence is, he carries it off with such conviction that everyone falls under his spell, thereby exposing their own public personae as masks. Leven's script is deft, juxtaposing the differing points of view without labouring their inconsistencies and giving Depp some  lushly poeticized lines which the actor carries off with ingenuous aplomb.

Realists will pull the film to pieces scene by scene but as a fable, which, after all, is all Don Juan DeMarco ever aspires to be,  it is a persuasive reminder that romance and fantasy can work wonders in lifting us out of the mundane.

FYI: For a much more trenchant and far less rosy view of the transformative power of imagination and fantasy compare Fred Schepisi's Six Degrees Of Separation released the previous year.




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