Monday, May 07, 2007

Old Joy

Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt, 2006) [9]
This film has been much praised in the cineaste community, and if anyone has been coming to this site with any sort of regularity, they should figure this would be right in my wheelhouse. Well, you're all right, as this short, lyrical gem is one of the few films I've been yearning to see lately that hasn't let me down in any way. Reichardt's debut is lyrical and minimalist in its flow yet still has a depth and meaning that goes well beyond its relatively short running time. For a film that's only 76 minutes with relatively no action, it captivated my attention for the entire time, making it feel like a half hour, leaving me wanting more. But what is most refreshing about this film is that Reichardt has the nerve to let her simple setup go and work and either you're going to get it or you're not.

The premise is simple enough: two friends, one yuppieish, one hippiesh, head out into the forest in Oregon searching for some hot springs and hopefully to re-kindle a friendship that seems frayed with years and minds apart. The film captures the simplistic beauty of the the woods with simple landscape shots that are allowed to speak for themselves. The biggest key to the film are its silences, something that seems antithetical to most moviegoers. There is little interaction between the two main characters, Mark and Kurt, other than some quick blurtings and explanations. The silence between these passages reveal more about the two than any lengthy conversation could. While to many this silence seems like nothing is happening, it really focuses on the mannerisms of people, their reactions, and the way that time and distance can strip a friendship. It appears that time has caused a rift between Mark and Kurt, in the way they live, they way they think, etc. that cannot be repaired, something far beyond a couple of days camping and visiting hot springs. Daniel London and Will Oldham give subtle yet nuanced lead performances, especially Oldham as spacey, needy Kurt (it's hard to remember with his music career, but Oldham was an actor first). Their jagged, mostly awkward interactions, while sparse, show all that needs to be said between the two. The landscape shots, prolonged and meditative, help to enforce the distance that has crept their way into their friendship. Old Joy is a film filled with silence and minimal action but that should not be taken as this is a film where nothing happens. It's lack of action is its most important feature.

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