Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 04, 2013 3:00 pm 
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Not so young any more

For his (ultra-short) feature debut set in suburban Toronto Kazik Radwanski trains his camera on a character lacking much center or direction, perhaps even much identity, considering he's thirty-four. Still living at home with his parents, Derek (Derek Bogart) struggles to make a small animation about a green creature building rock towers. He proves unskilled at maintaining friendships or romantic involvements, until he encounters Nicole (Nicole Fairbaim), who offers a glint of promise, but that's quite temporary. Derek does part-time construciton work for his uncle, but seems more preoccupied with his slow attempt to create his Shrek-like digital animation on the home computer, though there is no sign he's really worked much on it. On weekends Derek goes out to local nightclubs to drink and dance and trawl for dates. One success, Nicole (Fairbairn), which only makes him more awkward and uncomfortable, is only temporary. Radwanski's film, like its protagonist, doesn't really amount to much. Not only do its vérité methods lead to little enlightenment or structure; the character of Derek himself seems somehow unconvincing, as if Derek Bogart were not good enough an actor (if he is even acting) to make his character's nerdiness and inadequacy convincing. Underneath, Derk Bogart just seems like a pretty average, cheerful, goodnatured young Canadian guy. It is hard to find a movie here.

The conception of the character and various plot elements are very reminiscent of Todd Solondz's 2012 feature Dark Horse, and the age and social and psychological underdevelopment of the man living with his parents are similar (except that Solondz's character is New Jersey and Jewish and Derek is Toronto). The occupations, such as they are, are a bit different. Derek resembles Solondz's Abe (Jordan Gelber) in being obnoxious and egocentric, despite his lack of accomplishment. However every aspect of Abe's story is developed more fully and interestingly than Derek's. Some fans of Radwanski's film feel it shows great control and precision in its portrait, but the action doesn't develop Derek, only shows him speaking in a series of vignettes, in which the camera is annoyingly close up on Derek so that there is no visual context. Dark Horse picks up a wealth of meaning through its relationship with Solondz's oeuvre and his skill as an auteur which Tower at this stage lacks. This may best be considered a long short that may lead eventually to a more complete and accomplished feature.

Some viewers seem capable of reading a great deal into Tower. Here's an excerpt from a more positive, if not particularly convincing, description from the TIFF by Fernanco F. Croce: “'Just sort of fading in and out here,' he murmurs under the sheets as his not-quite-girlfriend stares at him. Often framing a stubbly, balding face against a galaxy of out-of-focus abstractions, Radwanski’s camera reveals an ability to lose itself in visceral action—a dip into a bathtub filled with ice cubes, a late-night rush of head-banging beats and popcorn—even as its gaze remains as vacant as the protagonist’s. Part deadpan theater of evasion and confrontation, part acrid retort to mumblecore celebrations of the arrested man-child, it’s a sustained accumulation of anxiety that’s capped by an intriguing anticlimax involving a hissing, scavenging raccoon."

"Intriguing anticlimax" certainly puts a positive spin on it. Concluding the film with the capture of a raccoon is about is feeble a device as can be imagined. Maybe Radwanski is the real Derek. This sub-mumblecore effort hardly deserves your attention.

Tower, 78 mins., debuted at Locarno, and was also at Toronto and several other festivals. It was screened for this review at the FSLC-MoMA series, New Directors/New Films, March 2013.

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