Harmony Korine

Harmony Korine

Bizarre love triangle

Kaleem Aftab talks to one-time wunderkind Harmony Korine as he releases his first film in eight years, a love story featuring celebrity impersonators

Harmony Korine was thrust into the limelight aged 22, when his sensational script for Kids garnered him the status of overnight sensation. Then came Gummo, a film made in the best traditions of German maverick Werner Herzog, which established the young California-born director as an American auteur. His reputation for irreverent humour was cemented with the release of his cult but critically maligned collection of notebook scribblings, A Crack Up at the Race Riots. By the time Korine made his Dogma 95 flick Julian Donkey-Boy (1999) he was well on his way to an alcohol and drug-fuelled haze.

It’s been eight years since Korine recruited Ewen Bremner to play the schizophrenic lead in Donkey-Boy. Despite not featuring in the director’s latest feature, Mister Lonely, the Scottish actor had a huge influence on this wonderful, esoteric film when he suggested that Duncraig Castle in the picturesque Highlands town of Plockton would be the perfect location to house a commune of celebrity doppelgangers.

Diego Luna plays a Michael Jackson double working in Paris. His life is turned upside down when he meets a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (played by Samantha Morton) who convinces him to come to Scotland and live with a community of imitators. On arriving in the Highlands, a smitten Luna is dismayed to discover that Monroe is married to Charlie Chaplin (Denis Lavant).

Being a Korine film, what sounds like a recipe for a mainstream rom-com is anything but. So, it’s only a small surprise when the action diverts to Werner Herzog playing a Jesuit Priest who jumps out of plane with nuns on motorbikes in Panama.

It’s the emotions the movie elicits rather than the plot that fascinates Korine. Ultimately, the film is about finding a place in the world where you can be content, a philosophy the 35-year-old follows in his work. ‘For me whatever the reaction is, I know in my heart that I made the movie that I set out to make,’ he says. ‘It is the film that I dreamed of making, so what is up there is 100% me and what I wanted to do.’

The movie was a family affair. Korine married Rachel (who plays Little Red Riding Hood) soon after shooting wrapped, and his brother Avi co-wrote the script. The director adds: ‘My brother and I worked for a while on the script. We had these images and we tried to figure out the best way of saying the things we wanted to say and the best way to say it. It was very scripted up to a point, and like all my films, once we got onto set I tried to create a little more of a chaotic environment and allow the actors to jump off the script and take it into different directions.’

It’s amazing to see a collection of characters, from James Dean to The Queen, all sharing the screen. As Korine explains, deciding who made the cut took a lot of consideration: ‘We worked hard on trying to figure out who all the characters in the commune should be. Obviously they should all be iconic and instantly recognisable and be the most visually interesting. We wanted to trade some characteristics from those figures’ real lives and incorporate those into the commune.’

The result is arguably the most exciting visual treat since the Jacko’s moonwalk.

Mister Lonely is on selected release from Fri 14 Mar.

Mister Lonely

  • 4 stars
  • 2007
  • UK / France / Ireland / US
  • 1h 52min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Harmony Korine
  • Written by: Harmony Korine, Avi Korine
  • Cast: Diego Luna, Samantha Morton

Korine's bizarrely enjoyable tale of celebrity lookalikes and Scottish communes.