LAFF: Day #4

June 21, 2010

The Los Angeles Lakers championship parade descended on the LA Live campus and in turn everyone’s film festival schedule. Luckily most of the craziness had dissipated by the time I arrived to interview Life With Murder director John Kastner (look for that piece in the coming week). Because of the interview, I only screened two Festival movies today, Aaron Katz’s sublime mix of genre and character Cold Weather and Kimi Takesue’s observational Uganda documentary Where Are You Taking Me?

COLD WEATHER (dir. Aaron Katz, 2010)

The shoddy production quality and rambling dialogue sequences of the American indie sub-genre loosely labeled “Mumblecore” have always struck me as lazy and indulgent, basically the dumbed down bastardization of what Cassavetes, Sayles, and Jarmusch explored in the last half century. So the evolution of director Aaron Katz from that world into a completely singular auteurist space couldn’t be more fascinating. His third film Cold Weather, a sublime mix of detective genre quips and character driven set-pieces, signifies Katz as a major filmmaker concerned with both the haunting majesty of textured locales and the deep seeded human relationships traversing this terrain.

Doug (Cris Lankenau), a former forensic science major and avid Sherlock Holmes aficionado, has just returned to Portland, Oregon and moved in with his sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn). Doug reads books, finds a job at a local ice factory, and goes about his daily life with a somewhat dejected but never pouty outlook on his situation. Katz makes it a point to inject beautiful long shots of rustic Portland scenery as transition points, emblems of a specific place often drenched in rain, covered in ice, and glossed in a haunting blue sheen. When Doug’s former girlfriend goes missing, he enlists the help of Gail and his work buddy Carlos (Raul Castillo) to piece together the jigsaw puzzle.

But Cold Weather is neither purely a detective film or character study, but an overlapping singular experience focusing on the shared moments in-between the action. During these sometimes hilarious always telling conversations, Katz develops character through sly tangents, resolute facial expressions, and a deep attention to movement and rhythm. Amazingly, Cold Weather becomes a film defined by pacing, as it ping-pongs back and forth between breakneck suspense and subtle resonance, then back again. Andrew Reed’s lush cinematography and Keegan DeWitt’s Hitchcockian score add a fantastic dimension to Katz’s direction, making “Cold Weather” a deeply personal slice of regional cinema and an ambitious advancement for this talented collective of filmmakers.

WHERE ARE YOU TAKING ME? (dir. Kimi Takesue, 2010)

Introduced by its director as an “observational” bridge to understanding the people/rhythms of Uganda in a more complex light, Where Are You Taking Me? weaves seemingly random footage of various everyday acts into a mosaic of facial expressions and character movement. The piece was commissioned by The Rotterdam Film Festival as a way of connecting diverging points of view and linking filmmakers from foreign countries. This is an admirable goal, but the film aimlessly moves from scene to scene without an indication of narrative focus. We see a beautiful Ugandan wedding, confront taxi drivers waiting on the street, and enter elaborate markets of stuffed stalls and corridors. But we never hear from the people themselves, never understand their perspective on the infiltration of the camera and filmmakers. A specific voice seems to be missing, and it’s that of the people being filmed.

After the film director Kimi Takesue explained her desire to blend into the scenery and capture layered moments of people in transition. Her reasoning is interesting and informative, yet the film doesn’t achieve this goal as a documentary. There’a a complete disavowal of structure, style, and focus, except during one sequence in the middle of the film when a voice-over reflection by a child soldier of Uganda rightly asks about the director’s intention with his image and story. There really isn’t a response, and this moment leaves an indelible mark on the viewer’s mind, making the rest of the footage seem disjointed in the process. By the end of Where Are You Taking Me?, we’re left with the images on the screen and nothing else. Universal human concerns can only take a film so far, and without any context, reflection, or structure the film becomes more slide-show than Cinema.

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