12 February 2010
The police procedural is such a commonplace genre these days, but this... this took "procedural" so literally that the result borders on surreal. Its painstaking attention not just to detail but to the very notion of detail makes what might have been a simple story into something absurd, and ultimately absurdist. The degree of effort one man puts into such a small case and the weight of a system pressuring him to just arrest someone and move on is balanced by every character's obsessive attention to the minutiae before them. Entire setpieces are devoted not just to debating the meaning but also the intent of the meaning behind pop lyrics or dictionary definitions. The main obstacles in Cristi's path are petulance and indifference, but they are enough. And ultimately, his best-case-scenario end-game will have almost no impact whatsoever: it will just appease our hero's conscience about which of two kids gets sentenced to three-to-seven years for a petty offense he doesn't even believe is wrong. And yet, it feels very much about a real person, a human character. Like I said: absurdism.
But what really wowed me was the economy of the filmmaking. For a film with so many long, slow takes of people standing, or walking, or watching nothing happen, no opportunity is missed. It all looks banal and mundane, but every frame is filled with visual metaphor. Every meaningless conversation resonates thematically. A speech midway through challenges you to ask what the banality means, and what the writers mean by what it means. And so: wry observation of very human moments, self-referential critique, circular logic and low-key absurdism? Of course I liked it.
Seen at the Whitsell Auditorium as part of the Portland International Film Festival.
(On a side note, if I may vent: the Whitsell is easily the least comfortable film-screening venue in the entire city and I will unfortunately be seeing a good number of films there in the next two weeks. I turned down a chance to see The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo tonight partially because of the line but mostly because another two hours in those cramped seats craning my head around others to keep up with subtitles sounded absolutely miserable. It's such a shame the Art Museum and the NW Film Center are stuck with such a poor theater, but what are you gonna do. You want to see these films, they got you by the balls.)