FROWNLAND: A night of Dostoevskian extremity.
Although it hardly seems likely in a summer of noisy, box-office-busting sequels, independent cinema thrives, after a fashion, in America. It’s just that no one sees any of it. When one of the biggest marquee names is local filmmaker Andrew Bujalski, the chances that any of the films in this otherwise confident and robust movement will appear at a local cineplex or even an arthouse are slim. The Harvard Film Archive’s second annual “New American Cinema” series provides a rare opportunity to sample the work of these slacker underground auteurs: films about troubled heterosexual relationships, with quirky, quotidian details, tongue-tied protagonists with nowhere jobs and in marginal circumstances, and a vague, sometimes bemused recognition of life’s absurdity.
The focus on heterosexuality is unfortunate; the New Queer Cinema seems long dead, with gay moviemakers having resigned themselves to numbing rom-coms. Women also are pretty scarce in this sampling, at least as directors. An exception is So Yong Kim, whose IN BETWEEN DAYS (2006; June 30 at 9 pm) iterates the series’s overriding theme of inarticulate couples bumbling their way to mutual dissatisfaction. Aimie (Jiseon Kim), a teenage Korean girl in some non-specified, frosted-over North American city, moons over her missing father, who ran out on her and her mother. Tran (Taegu Andy Kang), a hangdog schoolmate with larcenous tendencies, makes a poor substitute. Kim’s film runs like a mistier version of Kids with a few poignant twists and clunky clichés of its own.
Things don’t get any easier the older you get, at least not in Andrew Nehringer’s TEAM PICTURE (2007; July 2 at 7 pm), a lazy, Memphis autumn afternoon of a movie about an idle twentysomething (played by the often shirtless director, a scrawny Matthew McConaughey) who loses his girlfriend and quits his job (with his stepdad’s sporting-goods store) but doesn’t lose his cool or his breezy indifference until a pretty stranger joins him in a trip to Chicago. He spends the first night sleeping on the floor of their hotel room, but after a day of walking around town together swapping jokes and ironic intimacies and swigging from a pint of bad whiskey, it looks as if our hero might enjoy a change of fortune. Will his insouciant heart be pierced? In a little over an hour, Team Picture creates a world and the lives in it and wisely leaves them all hanging.
Another chance encounter opens up the worlds of self-enclosed characters and invites you along in Aaron Katz’s QUIET CITY (July 7 at 9 pm and July 8 at 9 pm, with Katz present). It will remind some of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset, but it’s not as if everyone were cranking out movies in that mold. Jamie (Erin Fisher) arrives late at night in a deserted Brooklyn, luggage in tow, to meet a friend who never shows up. Instead she bumps into Charlie (Cris Lankenau), an easy-going guy who starts out giving her directions and ends up escorting her around town and putting her up. They hit it off, but both their smart, evasive, wistful dialogue (co-written apparently by the actors) and Katz’s deceptively unemphatic and elliptical narrative dance around the obvious attraction, inching toward an unknown resolution. Like Linklater’s film, this modest, vivid gem will restore your faith in youth and romance and the tragedy of time.