At several moments during the Eighth Overlooked Film Festival, I thought I had been transported to a time in which the greatest artists of the movies were not only familiar to all, but properly and enthusiastically appreciated and revered. That such a time would be in the spring of 2006 kind of threw me for a loop, but this was a festival in which (I swear) the two most commonly (and reverently) invoked cinematic influences were not Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino but Robert Bresson ("Pickpocket," "Au Hasard Balthazar," "Lancelot du Lac," "L'Argent") and Yasujiro Ozu ("Tokyo Story," "Late Spring," "Early Spring," "Floating Weeds"). Not that any of the young filmmakers at the Overlooked were trying to claim their work was on par with these cinematic masters, but you could tell from their films that Ozu and Bresson really mean something to these guys, their influences genuinely and thoroughly absorbed into the cinematic sensibilities of another generation. It gave me hope for the future of movies as something more than a commodity.
A still from "Man Push Cart."
So, you had Phil Morrison, the director of "Junebug," talking about the static, empty interior and exterior shots he "lifted" from Ozu, as a way of giving his movie some breathing room. And Ramin Bahrani, the director of "Man Push Cart," citing Bresson's minimalist approach to storytelling, from his stripped-down acting style to his elegantly spare camerawork and reliance upon visuals over dialog. You could see similar elements in Lodge Kerrigan's chilly "Claire Dolan" (with a dash of Polanski in there -- an unsettling manicure scene followed by a startling shot involving a mirror on an armoire) -- and, sure enough, it turns out that the young, unknown Bahrani so admired Kerrigan's work that he sent him an early cut of the film and asked for Kerrigan's advice. He got it, too. (The idea of these two talking about the still-unfinished "Man Push Cart" for a couple of hours fills me with joy.)
Roger Ebert on stage with Lodge Kerrigan. (Photo by David Bordwell)
Karma was in the air. Kerrigan spoke of how Steven Soderbergh called him up after seeing "Claire Dolan" and said: "I really like the way you make movies. Is there anything I can do to help?" And when a later project (indeed, a nearly finished film, called "In God's Hands" with Peter Sarsgaard and Maggie Gyllenhaal) suffered such terrible damage to its negative that it could not be completed, Soderbergh promised him they'd make another film together -- and that turned out to be "Keane," one of the best films of 2005. (You can read more about Lodge Kerrigan and his three films in this IndieWire interview).
Roger Ebert has written luminous reviews of "Clean, Shaven," "Claire Dolan," and "Keane." I particularly like Ebert's observation, in the first paragraph of his first review of Kerrigan's first feature, "Clean, Shaven":
"Clean, Shaven" is an attempt to enter completely into the schizophrenic mind of a young man who is desperately trying to live in the world, on whatever terms will "work" in his condition. It is a harrowing, exhausting, painful film, and a very good one - a film that will not appeal to most filmgoers, but will be valued by anyone with a serious interest in schizophrenia or, for that matter, in film.
That description applies equally well to "Keane" -- and "Claire Dolan," although unlike the other two films it is not about a clinical schizophrenic (though Claire does have the disassociated, flat affect one associates with that illness).
Kerrigan made for a fascinating interview, too. He said he was interested in observing people less as individuals than as members of a species, and the behaviors common to their species. Individuality (and, perhaps, free will) are somewhat overrated. He spoke of Claire Dolan's desire, after a life of prostitution, to give up her old life and adopt a new one that includes a child, if not a mate. And, the fact is, that's how most people decide to get married -- when they reach a certain point in their lives, or their physical and psychological development, that they decide it's time to get married. Then they marry the person they're with, or whom they meet, at that time. Kerrigan's focus on schizophrenics and extreme cases serves to illuminate behavior shared across our species.