Unofficial sequels are always a bit of a tedious and tumultuous endeavour, by any filmmaker, especially when the original is as beloved and hailed as the Coen Brothers cult classic The Big Lebowski. Yet, as weird and difficult it is a task of comparing one’s own art to a predecessor, its even more difficult when an unofficial sequel also serves as an alternative language remake of another film.
The Jesus Rolls is John Turturro’s fifth written and directed film, and like many of his previous films, Turturro is fascinated by the idea of very mature and thematic adult love. Yet, while romance is the main driving force of The Jesus Rolls, Turturro decided to set the film and gather his former, glorious and alluded character from the aforementioned Lebowski, Jesus Quintana. Now, I’m not sure if using one of his most infamous, cinematic characters as the central character for a remake for Bertrand Blier’s Les Valseuses was an ingenious marketing ploy, or downright tragedy, but nevertheless, The Jesus Rolls is a downright intriguing and unforgettable cinematic experiment that will surely not be removed from your head; but we are still trying to figure out if that’s a good thing, or bad one.
Luckily for Turturro, over the past forty years of his acting career, as well as almost thirty years as a filmmaker, the actor was able to work with some of the most talented names and faces in film history. Yet, so many of these talents and the influences are hardly scene in the storytelling of The Jesus Rolls. Sadly, it seemed as though Turturro, was more intent of contacts so many of his former co-stars, to provide some sort of cameo-type appearance in this film, that basically serves as an exceptional reading card when reading back the end credits. The truth of the matter is, most of the strengths of The Jesus Rolls lies less in the cast advertised in the trailers or marketing material, and more in the strength of Turturro’s ability to explore a side of middle-aged perversion that is hardly shown in Western cinema today.
Basking in the largely European themed scenarios that flooded Italian and French multiplexes in the 70’s, The Jesus Rolls is a story about Jesus Quintana’s reassimilation back into society, after serving a hefty prison sentence, for a crime, we really are not privy to knowing. We learn quickly that his best friend and confidant, Petey (Bobby Cannavale) is there for Jesus and all of his misfitting and delinquent needs. Together, they steal cars, cause a ruckus and sweep a beautiful French woman, Marie (Audrey Tautou) away from her normal life as a hairdresser, as the three embark on a confusing and perilous journey of sexual discovery, growth and identity.
Engaging with strangers, relatives and acquaintances along the way, the three whimsical, aimless rejects of their environments learn about orgasms as well as their own sexual restrictions in a fever-dream like road trip that really doesn’t go anywhere further than the fresh pavement and asphalt of the American highway. While the film takes place within the United States, this is far less a piece of Americana, and more, a sun-drenched fantasia of extreme comical and unbelievably narrative laziness. Turturro, who is credited with writing the film, films himself writing his character’s into constant dead-ends and do not enters, which enable his protagonists to sometimes take unexpected U-turns to cinematic unknowns. While the material is unexpectedly lush and fantastical, it is hard not to notice or make the connection that The Jesus Rolls is some sort of a mid-life crisis film for Turturro; maybe a cinematic diorama his own failings in his own life and his past/present relationships? One thing does surely become evident though, we sluggishly become intrigued, somehow.
Either way, The Jesus Rolls does have its fair share of allure. Tautou, who plays the main love interesting of the middle-aged threesome, offers some of the best and louche scenes in the films. Her disreputable demeanour towards the men as well as her discovery of a sexual awakening with a younger man gives the film its strange essence and also allows audience members to recall some of their favourite memories of fever-dream like European dramas of the past. Together, along with Cannavale, the three really give the film its stamina, despite the feature itself being under 90 minutes, despite seeming more like 120 minutes at times.
By Turturro using Jesus Quintana, a small character from the Coen Brother’s beloved Lebowski, Turturro is able to evolve and expand Quintana’s mannerisms and character growth, which really shows a different side of the vastness of his filmmaking range, even if, by the time the credits roll, Quintana’s accent does becomes a bit more of a distraction than a selling point. Giving a little more muddled depth to Quintana, audiences are able to see this character grow into a muffled and zesty resurrected figment of his glorious past.
It’s quite obvious though, that The Jesus Rolls has a very niche market and following, that would disallow it from appearing on many of the larger streaming services like Netflix, Crave and Prime. Yet, despite all that, thanks to a beautifully shot film by Frederick Elmes, the man behind Paterson; Synecdoche, New York and The Ice Storm, as well as Emilie Simon’s incredibly compassionate flamenco score, The Jesus Rolls may not be the most unforgettable film you may watch in recent memory, but it surely will be a film you may never forget.
Night Film Reviews: 5.5 Out of 10 Stars.
What did you think of The Jesus Rolls? Worthy remake to the beloved classic? Applaudable continuation of the Coen’s universe? Or a flaccid and unworthy dud? Leave your comments below!