“The way that a handful of corporations in Los Angeles dictate how our stories are told creates a real poverty of imagination and it’s a big problem.”
The film 3 Businessmen is a 1998 comedy directed by Alex Cox, one of the true independent filmmakers of our time. His globetrotting career has taken him from Hollywood to Latin America to Great Britain, making films on his own terms whatever the consequences. That freewheeling spirit is on display in 3 Businessmen, which has a distinct feeling of a movie making itself up as it goes along. The film spends most of its time with two art dealers: an American named Benny, played by Miguel Sandoval, and an Englishman named Frank, played by none other than Alex Cox. Stuck in a nondescript hotel in Liverpool with terrible restaurant service, they decide to go out together in search of a meal. Unexpectedly, their evening trek takes them through London, Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and finally, a Spanish desert, where they witness a miraculous birth.
Despite the international scope of their odyssey, Benny and Frank hardly seem to notice the changes in scenery—to them, the world is a big, flat playground to project their privileged musings and pseudophilosophical rants, the kind of neo-liberal globalist bromides that Thomas Friedman gets paid to spout for the New York Times. Their endless walking and talking brings to mind the Before Sunset, Sunrise and Midnight trilogy directed by Richard Linklater. But in some ways, 3 Businessmen works as a critique of those films for embodying a certain middle-class self-absorption. Benny and Frank aren’t as charming as Julie Delpy or Ethan Hawke, but that allows us to take a more critical view of them and the comfortable bourgeois bubble they inhabit.
The film also has some of the anarchic energy of Luis Buñuel’s scathing satires, such as The Discreet of the Bourgeoisie and The Exterminating Angel. These films are acknowledged favorites of Cox and his wife Tod Davies, who wrote and produced the film. But 3 Businessmen has a jazz-like, improvisational quality, an openness that’s distinct from Buñuel. It’s an openness that invites us to see the world with new eyes, even if the two main characters can’t.
Kevin B. Lee is a filmmaker, critic and video essayist. He tweets as alsolikelife.