— CNP

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

Tristram ShandyMichael Winterbottom is becoming one of those filmmakers whose very eclecticism is enough to keep even the mild fan scurrying to the cinema to see what the heck he’s going to do next. This is ostensibly a mockumentary film about a film, but is more like a film about filmmaking. Winterbottom, like Soderbergh, references the filmic canon in a manner less derivative than Tarantino’s plagiaristic paeans to Asian schlock, and Tristram Shandy offers a smorgasbord of cinephile winks and nods. The soundtrack is almost entirely borrowed from other films: Michael Nyman’s driving score to the The Draughtman’s Contract locates us in that realm of period drama, Nino Rota’s music for Otto e Mezzo clearly evokes Fellini’s own notions of the filmmaking struggle, while Erik Nordgren’s music for Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night and Rota’s theme for Amarcord are simply touching tributes to two classics of European cinema.

But this isn’t some reverent ode to the auteurs of yesteryear, it’s a deadpan comedy. You certainly couldn’t ask for a much more fully-rounded comedic line-up—Steve Coogan (I’m Alan Partridge), Rob Brydon (Human Remains), Dylan Moran (Blackbooks), Stephen Fry (Blackadder), David Walliams (Little Britain) and Ashley Jensen (Extras) to name a few. Watching Tristram Shandy after having seen Extras one can’t help but feel that there’s something of a feedback loop happening here, or perhaps there was just something in the water of Britain in 2005, when both were made. There are obvious distinctions between the Merchant/Gervais pairing compared to Coogan/Brydon but the comedy often derives from a similar source. That is, the foibles of egos amongst men who are wretchedly insecure without the mask of comedy covering their shaky realities. The result is a highly enjoyable film that steadfastly refuses to be anything but genuinely funny, which is enough, I think.

DVD out now through Madman’s Director’s Suite