Though made in 1991, it was not until 1993 that Arizona Dream received a European release, while the US didnt get to see it until 1994 where it was released to only three theatres nationwide. This perhaps gives some indication of the unclassifiable eccentricity of the film one that lacked any identifiable niche other than arthouse weirdness from a director who had a name in Europe. Certainly, going by the cast list, the film should have been a hit. Theres Johnny Depp who was just starting to move from teenybop star and finding his feet as a major name actor and was charting his place by working with notable independent and non-mainstream directors; the young and acclaimed Lili Taylor; the perpetually eccentric Vincent Gallo; Jerry Lewis now well into his sixties and the sunshine of his career when he stopped doing comedy and started doing hard-nosed serious acting; and Faye Dunaway, a major star in the 1970s who was now into her fifties (despite which manages to deliver a saucy performance as she burns the screen up romantically paired with Depp, twenty years her junior).
Arizona Dream has a number of people who acclaim it a great film. I am of more mixed outlook than that. The main problem for me was that it doesnt really seem to be about anything. It has all the hallmarks of a breed of French film and certain indie US films, which are less concerned with a plot that starts at Point A and winds its way through various convolutions to an end, and instead place all their focus on the characters, observing them in mundane situations until this builds to a whole. These are frequently films that are less plotted than they are regarded as improvisational exercises by their director and cast with a maximum amount of room being given over to whatever way the particular actors want to take drama on the set.
There is a similar kind of looseness to the happenings in Arizona Dream of watching actors engaged in various pieces of character improv rather than participating in a plot that comes with a pre-planned direction. Certainly, the sheer calibre of the cast that Emir Kusturica has assembled makes all of this undeniably watchable. And there are moments when this becomes something brilliantly directed none the more so than the dinnertable conversation with two different couples playing footsie under the table, ending with an argument between Faye Dunaway and Lili Taylor and Lili deciding to hang herself with her pantyhose on the stair landing. Or in some of Vincent Gallos clever acted out versions of North By Northwest (1959) and Raging Bull (1980) that follow the original beat for beat.
This kind of loose, improvisational drama never much lends itself to genre cinema, which is usually focused around ideas (in the case of science-fiction), otherworldly externals (in the case of fantasy) or shock and suspense set-pieces (in the case of horror). That said, Kusturica allows a number of surreal and puzzling elements to run through the film. There are several scenes where characters start spontaneously floating up into the air. We also get a number of appearances of a fish that flies through the air for reasons unknown. There are also Johnny Depps dreams of being part of an Inuit community, from which the flying fish originates, while the end of the film features he and Jerry Lewiss departed character amid the community fishing on the ice. Quite what all of this means is a considerable scratch of the head.
Full film available online here:-