The overlooked, the neglected, the lost.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, written and directed by David Gordon Green,
doesn't present you with their plight or try to explain - it just makes
you feel it.
film thrusts us into a nameless small town, and into the lives of a
group of kids - mostly black, some white - whiling away a summer and
trying to make sense, somehow, out of a senseless environment of junkyards,
abandonded buildings, and families inured to poverty. A 12-year-old
girl named Nasia (Candace Evanofski) narrates the movie. She is thoughtful,
poetic - her words are like wings beating against a cage. She has recently
broken up with Buddy (Curtis Cotton III), a wiry, precocious kid with
glasses, because he "acts too young." Now she is interested in moody,
inarticulate George (Donald Holden), who has to wear a helmet because
his skull is too soft. Nasia sees great things in George. She thinks
he could be a hero.
Although the narrator is a girl, the film ends up focusing mostly on
the boys. Nasia, her older sister, and her other friends, share humorous
talk about boys, and a sense of togetherness. But the boys talk and
act in ways that betray disconnection and emptiness. The first part
of the film moves in the same wandering, seemingly aimless way as the
characters. Then a sudden tragedy confronts the kids with a reality
that they have trouble knowing how to deal with.
shows an uncompromising commitment to his own vision. He very deliberately
assumes the point of view of his young characters, with no outside comment
or position, and he succeeds in creating an overwhelming sense of strangeness,
confusion and fear. The dialogue challenges stereotypes, venturing into
an almost surreal poetic quality, or sometimes an abbreviated symbolism
that reflects each character's special feeling. The conversations are
often improvised, and most of the young non-professionals in his cast
are strikingly natural, with Damian Jewan Lee a standout as a gruff
older boy who can't cope with guilt.
George emerges as the film's main character. He assumes the role of
a hero, even wearing a cape as he walks around town - in grotesque contrast
to the underlying desperation. This picture is always going to places
you don't expect it to. It is Green's first film, and he sometimes tries
for effects that are all wrong. A few speeches come out of young mouths
that sound utterly false. His mistakes, though, are commensurate with
his strengths as a filmmaker. Helped by Tim Orr's terrific cinematography,
he does things here with sound and mood and juxtaposition of dialogue
with image, that you just don't see anywhere else.
The film was rejected by the Sundance committee. It's a messy work
- not in style or craft, but in sensibility. I imagine that the judges
just didn't know what to make of it. Many reviewers have faltered when
trying to describe George Washington as well. The mistake is
to try to see it as some kind of social commentary or critique. Green
does not present an objective narrative about poverty or race or alienated
youth, or anything like that. He creates a feeling - an extremely disturbing
feeling is - nothingness. Nothing to hold on to. No support (from adults
or from society in general), no sense of things with which to grasp
one's life, no ground to walk on. Free falling. These kids have nothing,
they know nothing for certain, and their only method of survival is
to make it all up as they go along. George Washington creates
the visceral experience of a terrifying voidness. It's a flawed first
work, sometimes even a foolish one. It's also a courageous and important
work that gives me hope, hope for a film art that addresses the predicament
of people, the kind of people that other films won't even touch.
illegal immigrant is alienated too, in a more literal sense. Paul Pavlikovsky's
LAST RESORT explores the lonely realm between countries where
people have no rights and only slender hopes to cling to.
Tanya (Dina Korzun), a Russian children's book illustrator, has come
to England with her young son (Artyom Strelnikov) in the belief that
a Brit she fell in love with will take care of them. The man doesn't
show up at the airport, she is detained by immigration, and then she
claims political asylum so as not to be sent back. The two of them end
up stranded in a "designated holding area," complete with guard dogs
and surveillance cameras, from which they are not allowed to leave,
while the government looks at their case - a process that could take
live in a bleak little seaside flat overlooking an abandoned amusement
park (thus the pun in the film's title), and Tanya quickly begins to
run out of money. The only way to make money in this "area" is either
through dealing in black market goods, or - as Tanya discovers when
a stranger offers her a deal - to pose as a model for cyberporn. Meanwhile,
her 12-year-old begins to drift into a life of petty crime. Into this
seemingly hopeless situation stumbles Alfie (Paddy Considine), the proprietor
of a seedy local arcade. He's got "loser" written all over him, but
he reaches out to the young mother. Trust is born, and eventually love,
which leads to the slim chance of escape for all three.
Pavlikovsky captures the feeling of life on the margins.
The dilapidated world of Last Resort mirrors the spiritual dislocation
of its characters. Delicately beautiful, Korzun plays Tanya with a convincing
resilience - scared and tired but still sensitive, even romantic, she
carries the movie.
Supposedly the script was put together, by director and actors, as the
film was shot.
That helps to explain the naturalness of the style and of all concerned.
The picture is refreshingly brief (73 minutes), and like a good short
story, it doesn't try to reach too far. Just a story of people stuck
in a bureaucratic limbo, and unexpected love. A film that might help
you feel grateful for what you have.
Modesty may be a virtue, but less isn't necessarily
more. Take, for instance, TOO MUCH SLEEP, a clever little joke,
written and directed by newcomer David Maquiling, that doesn't have
enough on its mind to fill even its hour and a half length.
(the engagingly befuddled Marc Palmieri) is a security guard who lives
with his mother and doesn't seem to have much ambition beyond just sleeping
a lot. After a distracting incident involving a pretty girl on a bus,
he discovers that his gun has been stolen. The rest of the movie concerns
his quest to get his gun back, in the course of which he meets a variety
of weird characters, including his best friend's uncle (Pasquale Gaeta)
who spouts appallingly banal wisdom with the accents and mannerisms
of a Scorsese-type mobster, a sort of pseudo-Joe Pesci, if you can imagine
such a thing.
the plus side, Too Much Sleep has a number of bizarre and amusing
bits of business, a deadpan tone that serves it well, and a pleasant
performance from Palmieri, who looks like all the jocks you used to
know in high school, except with a charming facility for clueless straight
man reactions. In addition, Maquiling's point is subtle enough that
the less discerning might very well not even get it. Without giving
too much away, I'll say that it has something to do with the way we
automatically identify with the protagonists of stories as heroes, i.e.
representing "good" in some way. Maquiling takes advantage of this fact
to twist the audience's mind into little knots. His main instrument
for this purpose is Gaeta as the tough old guy, one of the most vulgar
characters I have seen on screen in quite a while.
all of the actors display the same skill as the leads. In fact, there
are a few performances that are downright bad. But that's not the real
trouble. The problem is, the film's central conceit is too thin to sustain
involvement. Maquiling hasn't come up with enough interesting incidents,
or funny dialogue, to break the feeling of "So what?" that permeates
his shaggy dog narrative. For a first film, it shows promise. But economics,
as much as I hate to admit it, play a factor here. I paid almost eight
dollars for Maquiling's bit of jest. If I had rented it as a video,
or saw it on TV for free, I probably would have appreciated it more.
Both Last Resort and Too Much Sleep are part of the "Shooting
Gallery" series, the brainchild of independent producer Larry Meistrich.
He made a deal with Loews Cineplex to show six films per year, independent
and foreign films chosen by Shooting Gallery, in the hopes of creating
some buzz for pictures that might otherwise never achieve distribution
outside of the major urban centers. Last year they scored with Croupier,
which made a handy profit through word of mouth, and had a few smaller
successes as well, including Judy Berlin and A Time for Drunken
Horses. It's an admirable idea, and Loews has demonstrated some
marketing savvy by promoting the pictures to a niche audience as an
alternative to the usual Hollywood fare. Here's wishing continued success
to the enterprise.