From the opening title sequence of this quasi-fictional documentary about singer-songwriter Nick Cave you know you're in for something special. A fast-paced split-screen montage of thoughtful images and photographs whip us through Cave's life up to his day 20,000 on Earth, and it's immediately clear this is not a conventional biography.
Instead, it's a carefully constructed, lusciously shot and original film that unfolds over one imaginary day in the life of this dapperly dressed artist. From the moment Cave gets out of bed and grooms himself in the bathroom mirror he shares his musings on life, being a songwriter, fame and self-invention.
It's a clever gimmick and allows the filmmakers to avoid interviewing Cave and turning him into a traditional "talking head". Instead we follow Cave as he visits psychoanalyst Darian Leader, where he discusses his childhood and relationship with his father. There's nothing scandalous, just candid recollections of a man and the influence he had on his son, but it leads to a fascinating discussion about Cave's fear of losing his memory and the role memories play in his songwriting.
Some of the best moments are when Cave is sharing stories with friends. A conversation with bandmate Warren Ellis has them divulging an insightful story about Nina Simone, and as Cave drives between appointments he has dream-like conversations in his car with Ray Winstone about fame, with Blixa Bargeld on why he left the Bad Seeds and Kylie Minogue about that duet.
Cave's journals and a local archive also provide source material. Although his journal on the English weather isn't terribly exciting, hearing him recite his thoughts on seeing wife Susie Bick for the first time is one of the most poetic and romantic declarations of love you'll ever hear.
The film does veer from this day-in-the-life structure to the studio as Cave prepares material for a new album, and on to the stage where he performs several songs. The sparse use of live performance footage will make 20,000 Days on Earth more appealing to those less familiar with Cave's work, although the tracks reinforce Cave's feelings about performing and the power of music.
The structure of Cave's day feels contrived at times, and there are moments when his ramblings cross the line into self-indulgence, but for the most part this is an intimate, warm film that genuinely gets into the head and heart of a dark, brooding soul.
Cast: Nick Cave, Kylie Minogue and Ray Winstone
Director: Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard
Running time: 97 mins
Rating: M (offensive language and nudity)
Verdict: A carefully constructed, lusciously shot and original film