I've been pretty busy pursuing other projects and thus didn't have the temporal opportunities to see all that many of the movies screening at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Cinemafest, but those pictures I have seen, four in all so far, have been very good to extraordinary. Three of them have already screened at the fest, the fourth will be there on Thursday.
Richard Linklater's Boyhood, the opening night picture, is one I imagine you've heard a lot about, and I agree with all the enthusiastic and maybe even gushing things said about it. It really IS all that; one of the things that's remarkable about it is the way Linklater stuck to the cinematic grammar he had decided on—a simple but not unsophisticated one—throughout the twelve-year shooting process, and how this grammar yields a relaxed, seamless viewing experience that gathers emotional power in ways the viewer won't necessarily notice until very near the end. The movie also has one of the absolute greatest final shots in cinema. When I first saw it (and I plan on seeing it again, and maybe again, and with pleasure), I mentioned on social media that it was "Edward Yang-level great." Let me expand on that: the movie has the compassions and directness of Yi-Yi and the ambition and concentration of A Brighter Summer Day. (One thing it does not have is Yang's anger, which is undetectable in Yi-Yi, the movie more than once cited by "I did SO like a three-hour movie" types who might be in for a rude shock if they ever happen to see Summer Day.) I think every resident of the United States ought to see this movie; I don't know if IFC can pull that off, but they release the picture on July 11.
The erudite and perspicacious young film critic Ignatiy Vishnavetsky went an unusual route for his deput picture, Ellie Lumme, contriving a haunting, satisfyingly feature-like experience within a barely (not even, even!) 45-minute running time. Set and shot in Vishnavetsky’s home base of Chicago, Ellie Lumme begins, it seems, as another examination of The Mating Rituals Of Today’s Irritating Young People. But via increments, in specific camera movements, lighting shifts, and cuts, it mutates into something odder and disquieting. Stephen Cone, a filmmaker who also was a coproducer on this, is excellent as Ned, the initially indifferent fellow who becomes a persistently bothersome presence in the life of the title character, played a few notes higher and finer above the Generic-Indie-Female register by Allison Torem (above). The movie's cinephilic currents are kind of subterranean, which is all to the good; in particular, Cone's character reminded me of a '40 or '50s noir demon, a persistent negative presence in the mode of, say, Robert Ryan in Fritz Lang's persistently great 1952 Clash By Night; but that's not quite it.
I met Mr. V., with whom I’ve had a number of invigorating (and sometimes intemperate—my fault as usual, and sorry) exchanges online over the years, at a social gathering on Saturday after the movie’s BAM screening, and he’s an impressive fellow, and taller than I had imagined as well. At the party I remarked to another friend that I thought it was kind of a shame that Ignatiy had made the movie a longer-than-average short; it felt to me that he could have taken this story to a more conventional feature length without stretching the material too thin. “Sure,” my friend said, “but isn’t it admirable that he went and made the movie he wanted to make?” So okay, there’s that.
The Mend, which screened Sunday evening, is not just a staggering debut feature, it’s a staggering movie full stop. The scenario setup might seem on the conventional side: One seeming hellion of a brother (Mat, played by Josh Lucas [seen above] with what one might call phlegmatic commitment, among other things) reconnects with the other attempting-to-be-a-normal-person-in-Upper-Manhattan brother (Alan, an excellently often-recessive Stephen Plunkett). But that’s the only thing conventional about it. Writer/director John Magary opens with an arresting iris-out opening image that recalls Arnaud Desplechin, and the movie, like many of Desplechin's, has a deliriously packed feel. Content arrives in the form of dialogue, inflection, eye movement, camera movement, cutting, lighting, music, sometimes all at once, but nothing’s ever on-the-nose; seldom does a shot or a sequence resolve on a consonant note. But Magary’s in full control of his dissonance. The movie is never not profanely hilarious, but it’s also almost nerve-wrackingly tense throughout. The movie’s opening is a good example of how Magary confounds standard film grammar, cutting from a down-and-dirty seduction scene to a screeching shit fit in which the seducee banishes the seducer, without depicting the precipitating act. In the hands of a less assured filmmaker this kind of ellipsis can seem affected, but Magary makes you like it, as he does the long, alternately mortifying, titillating, and immersive party scene that follows. The movie’s side-steps into genuine surrealism, largely centered around a dodgy power situation in Alan’s apartment, are also consistently exhilarating. I should make a disclosure here that Magary is a cordial acquaintance who’s been a longtime commenter on this blog, so I came to The Mend with some good feelings and high hopes. The movie itself exceeded them, I have to say. Magary is definitely a Director To Watch and I hope The Mend finds distribution soon so it can find an audience. It deserves a big, smart one.
Paul Harrill’s Something, Anything, which screens this Thursday, June 26 at 7 p.m., is a substantially quieter film than any of the above. It’s a beautifully concentrated story of a young woman in Knoxville, Tennessee (Peggy, played by Ashley Shelton, seen above) who’s living her life in the way everyone, including herself, expects of her. Works as a real estate broker, marries a hotshot young professional from the social circle she’s likely been in since high school, etcetera. An inopportune turn of events that everyone around her, including her husband, treats as a life-glitch sends Peggy into a tailspin, and a postcard from a former high-school acquaintance who’s now a monk inspires her to undertake a spiritual quest. She doesn’t quite get into Diary of a Country Priest or Meetings With Extraordinary Men territory, but her embrace of a particular asceticism confuses the people around her, including the estranged husband. Harrill’s writing and directing is sensitive in the best way possible, highlighting small details of behavior sharply but unfussily. And Shelton’s performance has a steady intensity that gives off a soft but beautiful light throughout.