FAY GRIM: Parker Posey as a resolute, resourceful heroine!
Despite the name, independent cinema has grown conventional. Just look at the characters. The average “hero” of the typical Sundance entry slumps onto the screen a sensitive, ironic, indolent, feckless loser. The women don’t make out much better: they’re whimsical, fey, elusive, and usually portrayed by Parker Posey.
Parker Posey does make an appearance at the Fifth Annual Independent Film Festival of Boston. (Is it now the premier film event in New England? I believe so.) And in a film by the hoary dean of American Independent Film, Hal Hartley. But FAY GRIM (Somerville Theatre: April 25 at 7 pm, with actor James Urbaniak present), the festival’s worthy Wednesday opening-night entry, is the freshest and most accomplished thing Hartley has done since the film it’s a “sequel” to, Henry Fool (1997).
In Henry Fool the title mystery man — a slob, drunkard, drifter, janitor, and Tom Waits–like sage — has flown to Sweden to escape a manslaughter rap, leaving behind wife Fay (Posey), son Ned, and Fay’s brother Simon Grim (James Urbaniak), whom Henry had inspired to write bestselling poetry and win the Nobel Prize. Topping such whimsy (or perhaps “grimsy”) in a sequel is a tall order, but Hartley obliges by making Henry a spy involved in every covert screw-up from Chile to Afghanistan. A CIA agent (Jeff Goldblum) is on his trail — it appears Henry’s awful novel Confessions is in fact a coded secret document. So is Fay, who matures from neurotic whiner to resolute, resourceful heroine as she hops from Queens to Paris to Istanbul in her quest. A rebus of red herrings, insoluble ciphers, and facetious symbols, it doesn’t quite add up (for me). But the romantic Hartley’s message rings clear: love conquers all, except when it doesn’t.
Two more noteworthy films screen on Thursday. Equally ambitious in its storytelling, Belgian director Philippe Farladeau’s CONGORAMA (Somerville Theatre: April 26 at 7:15 pm) evokes Krzysztof Kieslowski (not posers like Paul Haggis) with its intersecting narrative lines. The protagonists, though, come from the indie mold, with redeeming differences. Michel Hervé (Olivier Gourmet) may be an inept wanna-be inventor, but his ménage — his wife is Congolese, his son of mixed race, his dad paralyzed by a stroke — sets him apart. When he learns that his parents adopted him and that he was actually born in a barn in Quebec, he sets off to find his real parents. Meanwhile, in Quebec, Louis (Paul Ahmarani) sets off on an odyssey of his own. His father disappeared two years ago with his plans for a revolutionary hybrid car; now the government is interested, and Louis wants to find dad before it does. Sometimes ingenious, sometimes contrived, and sometimes both (as in a scene of “deus ex emu”), Congorama pulls off its extravagances with dry wit and impeccable performances.
Failed ambitions and general fecklessness characterize Martin (Tommy Smothers look-alike Pat Healy) in Craig Zobel’s sleek, funny, sad GREAT WORLD OF SOUND (Somerville Theatre: April 26 at 9:45 pm + April 28 at 7:15 pm, with the director present). Moreover, he’s dominated by a girlfriend who makes silly art. So when he gets a job reeling in wanna-be musicians for the dicy record-production company of the title, his path seems clear. Perhaps so, but his sotto voce sarcasm and long looks of compassion suggest hidden depths, and boosted by the jolly pragmatism of his sales buddy Clarence (a terrific Kene Holliday), he becomes something more than your everyday indie hero.