For the past week I’ve been wandering the streets of downtown Austin, seeing films around the clock at the SXSW Film Festival. Things are finally winding down so I thought I’d take a moment to share some thoughts with you. I’m torn over a favorite film this year, but getting the highest marks are the films listed below. Each is unique, but they provide a nice cross-section of where American indie cinema is today, or rather the current state of “mumblecore”.
I caught Dustin Guy Defa’s Bad Fever my first night here and I was absolutely blown away. The film is a metered and quiet yet forceful tale of one man’s struggle to be accepted, to find a friend. Kentucker Audley plays Eddie, a socially inept Utahan who meets Irene (Eléonor Hendricks), a manipulative vagabond, at the film’s outset. The two develop a troubled relationship, each using the other in turns. Kentucker, a filmmaker himself, delivers a performance that can stand up to any great American performance you can think of, including Marlon Brando’s Terry Malloy or Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle.
Another brilliant performance came from Greta Gerwig in The Dish and the Spoon. Director Alison Bagnall taps Gerwig’s raw energy to build her protagonist, Rose, a woman trying to put her life back together after her husband admits to cheating. While drinking and driving around Delaware, she finds a wayward British boy played by Olly Alexander. Both are lost and looking for the existence of love in the universe, though perhaps not within one another. Gerwig is something of an indie godess, only recently making a foray into multiplexes with Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg and the upcoming Arthur with Russell Brand. She is not just one of the best actors of our time, but of any time. She can go toe to toe with Katherine Hepburn, Lucille Ball, Ingrid Bergman, Meryl Streep…anyone. Her vigorousness is a sight to behold in Bagnall’s latest.
Finally, we have the apocalyptic love story Bellflower. It’s about two big-hearted demi-hipsters with a penchant for getting into trouble (they are building a flame thrower) and an obsession with Mad Max who meet girls who in turn become their undoing. It’s a simple tale of love and loss but told with a gritty stylization. Effected, dusty imagery pushed the point home that relationships can be brutal on one’s soul and sometimes on one’s own flesh. It is a stunning take on the conventions of understated Amer-indie mumblecore cinema.