Branded

This review contains minor spoilers.

Bizarre, brilliant, and occasionally dull, Branded is either a masterpiece or it is absolutely horrible, I'm honestly not sure which. I wish I could be more clear, but I'm not sure I can be. A little disclaimer -- this movie is a limited release indie that has had almost no marketing or advertisements, and it wasn't screened for critics. Which after watching it, makes total sense.

Branded is a movie that feels a little cheap and slapdash, but has a very strong plot and narrative structure. That structure is a combination of traditional single camera drama, documentary style montage footage, and flashbacks that lean toward dry satire. All the flashbacks and transitions between time periods are narrated by a woman with a slightly annoying voice, who uses a style that feels like it belongs in some government-produced propaganda film.

The plot was a little hard to follow, and nearly impossible to describe coherently. It revolves around the idea that advertising, marketing, and specifically branding is the foundation on which our modern civilization has been built. Using Russia as the primary example, the main character Misha (Ed Stoppard) explains that Lenin used propaganda and brilliant marketing techniques to sell the idea of Communism. He created a brand that convinced the people that Communism equaled happiness, and it worked for a long time. When Communism eventually failed, a new capitalist market sprung up, dominated by products from the West. This new market is defined by familiar products that the consumer is drawn to by a name or a slogan.

Throughout the movie, Misha uses direct and often brutal slogans to sell ideas to the public. He creates an extreme cosmetic make-over show with his love interest Abby (Leelee Sobieski) that the thin chic-obsessed Russia will be attracted to. At the same time, this thin chic obsession has driven the fast food industry into the ground. So Misha's show is subverted by another brilliant marketing guru (Max Von Sydow). When the subject of the make-over falls into a coma after the surgery, Sydow's character uses the resulting fallout to alter the public image of beauty and by doing so, literally enslaves the population.

This sends Misha into seclusion for an extended period of time, which eventually culminates in a bizarre ritual involving a red cow and maybe a descent into madness. Once Misha returns to civilization, we see this madness depicted as hallucinations of cartoonish monsters attached to people like malignant, brightly colored leeches. These monsters are representative of each of the major brands, and these blatant symbols of commercial enslavement drive Misha to start a war on those brands. This is all set up for the final series of events which are startling, slightly sci-fi, and littered with cheesy but effective computer generated effects.

For me, however, what really held my interest was the romance between the leads. Misha has a on-again off-again relationship Abby (Leelee Sobieski), who is the niece of his business partner Bob (Jeffrey Tambor). This love affair is told over a number of years, and is seemingly at odds with Misha's goals. When Misha returns to civilization, they use Misha's hallucinations to drive a wedge in the relationship, which is a wonderfully real and tragic through-line to a section of the movie that is anything but grounded in reality. I won't say how it ends, but I found the resolution satisfying, given the story being told.

I'm not sure I can recommend this movie, since it takes a tolerance of the bizarre to appreciate it. Still, there is one thing that I feel is absolutely true; if you want to see something original, Branded is the movie for you. I'm not going to give it a numerical rating, because I don't think it would do it justice. If you get a chance to watch this movie, let us know what you think.

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

1 comment:

Billie Doux said...

It sounds weird and intriguing, possibly something I might try on DVD. Interesting review of what sounds like an original movie, J.D.