Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 19, 2016 8:56 pm 
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Wall Street secrets hidden in the Maine woods

This micro-indie brings to mind Shane Carruth's much admired time travel debut, Primer. It too is an occult sci-fi tale whose details may be intriguingly hard to figure. It's summertime on the Maine coast. In an opening that brings to mind Rohmer's Conte d'éte or Rivette's Céline and Julie Go Boating ("by way of David Lynch," as Eric Kohn aptly puts it), Helen (Rosalie Lowe) calls in Charlie (Annabelle Lemieux) to spend the summer helping her in her work. This seems unusual, because Helen is a forest ranger, traditionally a solitary job. But Helen's work, as she explains in a somewhat stilted set of speeches (the acting is either Brechtian, or incompetent; but the young women are charming and pretty), isn't the usual scanning of surveillance cameras to spot fire in the woods.

Oh no. Helen has been able to make canny predictions of financial market developments using instinctive readings of the CCTV footage on the video screens, impulsive jottings on the stock market page of the paper, and the like. And she's getting generous daily checks from unidentified Wall Street clients who use the market trend information she provides. Charlie's just going to be a dogsbody, fetching groceries, occasionally going out to the forest to check cameras and sites against the pictures sent back to the handsome, minimal Maine manse they occupy.

Charlie settles in comfortably, claiming to enjoy the solitude and boredom, till she gets fed up with Helen's mystification and has a late-night scream-fest with her (a workout for acting neophytes), which is completely forgotten thereafter. She reads an apocalyptic Japanese novel about a recluse, Kôbô Abe's The Ark Sakura, and when in the woods where satellite reception seems better has cryptic confabs with her bf ("Orange." "86 the communiqué..."): it seems witty to cut the audience out of cell-phone chatter, make it as irrelevant to others as it usually is in real life. The filmmakers stick in more oddball hints than anybody but future cultists can parse, askew objects, oddly parallel symbols, a visit to a show of intriguingly strange paintings (bad Francis Bacons?), wood "frames" hanging in the woods whose ratio parallels the film's 4:3 format.

The film has occasional scary or spooky moments, such as the inexplicable power outages, and the sudden appearance of a skinny, odd old man, Herbert (Tom Lloyd), who turns out to be keeper of the local lighthouse, and who recites his lines in a singsong (occasionally remembering to put on a Maine accent) that shows no acting skill whatever. One can largely agree with Jackson Walker, an IMDb viewer-critic, who says this film is "awful," with "flat" acting, "jerky" editing, "sub-par" lighting and most of its "dialog poorly ADRed" (i.e., post-synched) - yet insists he loves it ("This movie is terrible, you should go watch it!") and gives it a ten, because he finds its bizarre, baffling quality appealing and cultish. This is guaranteed to be true for some, its Happy Few.

The phantasmagoric science seems less well worked out or illustrated than in Carruth's film, even if one is kept puzzled throughout. On the other hand there is much to enjoy in the visuals and the music. The former are shot on Super16 film donated by Kodak, and nicely processed to convey the delicate colors of New England summer. However cameraman Chris Messina's efforts at handheld work out of doors may falter, the young women, the house, the woods, and the fresh summer atmosphere can all be appreciated.

The location is Port Clyde, Maine. The place where the young women stay and work is the historically preserved Porter House. "Built in 1820. It was occupied by Russell W. Porter, an astronomer and arctic explorer. It is offered as a summer vacation rental," its Facebook page explains. Though it looks a little too perfect for these events to be happening there, it is a gem both inside and out. The original music by the Japanese pop experimentalist Keiichi Suzuki, who has scored for Takeshi Kitano's films, is another subtle pleasure, at once haunting and light. To carry through the Japanese theme two Japanese men come calling in the last reel to give Helen an even more lucrative assignment, whose nature they refuse to specify. Doubletalk it would seem becomes doubly double when delivered in Asiatic intonations.

For the Plasma, 93 mins., had its world premiere at BAMcinemaFest in June 2014, the only film so honored there (Richard Brody wrote a report for The New Yorker at the time), and showed at eight other small festivals. Factory25 is releasing it theatrically in New York City at Anthology Film Archives and on the Internet 21 July 2016. Mike D'Angelo's review for AV Club puts it in its place and gives it its due.

Bingham Bryant, who wrote, produced, and coedited, is also the producer of the Argentinian-US coproduction Dear Renzo that will be debuting in festivals in the fall of 2016. He is working on preproduction of Arnheim, a feature to be shot in fall 2016. Kyle Molzan, co-director and co-editor, is currently readying a feature based on the prolific Belgian novelist Georges Simenon's years in America. Both live in Brooklyn, New York.


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