Cinequest Dispatch #2: The Mimic / Breaking Fast / Owners
Written and directed by Thomas F. Mazziotti, The Mimic’s overly ambitious attempt to craft a high-concept, absurdist comedy is its ultimate downfall. A combination of Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation., Grant Morrison’s fourth-wall-breaking Animal Man comic, and early screwball comedies, the film is juggling more ideas than it quite knows what to do with. Central performances by Thomas Sadoski as a sardonic screenwriter and Jake Robinson as his possibly sociopathic next door neighbor hit the right in-on-the-joke notes, but a script favoring snappy dialogue that’s too witty by half at the expense of character development doesn’t give the actors enough pieces to play with. Faring better are digressive setpieces that serve to spotlight single-scene cameos by Gina Gershon and Austin Pendleton; veteran actors both, Gershon and Pendleton nail the tone Mazziotti is looking for and lend real emotional heft to their sequences — bringing out the best in Sadoski and Robinson in the process. If there’s one key takeaway though, it’s that Mazziotti and his crew do compelling work on a visual level — clever editing and production design are particularly effective in conveying the unreliability of the narrator and providing support to the film’s themes of duality. Hopefully their follow-up will utilize a more supportive framework as well. Breaking Fast
The parts of Mike Mosallam’s Breaking Fast that work really work. When the script is focused on exploring the interplay between culture, religion, and identity, it’s for the most part sharp and nuanced. The film wisely doesn’t glorify the protagonist or vilify those who disagree with him or don’t feel able to lead the same kind of life — supporting characters are fleshed out and well-realized, you feel that they are leading their own lives when not on screen. Leads Haaz Sleiman and Michael Cassidy have an easy chemistry, playing the small moments of a budding relationship well, and Mosallam gives them nice character beats to work with — a shared love of 1978’s Superman: The Movie is a particularly endearing touch used to touching effect. But Mosallam, adapting the film from his 2015 short of the same name, has some trouble navigating the pitfalls that fleshing out a concept to feature length can create. His scripts can be clunky at times, with an excess of expository dialogue that works against the naturalism at play elsewhere. Similarly, much of the conflict, especially in the final act, feels overly manufactured, which contributes to an overall lack of tonal control — his actors are often playing it a little too broadly especially in sequences of overt comedy and scenes carrying crucial dramatic weight. In the end, the conflict merely takes focus away from what the film does best — letting its characters walk, talk, and eat with each other. Owners (Vlastníci)
A critical favorite last year in the Czech Republic, writer-director Jiří Havelka’s Owners is a satire that will likely feel all-too-relevant to American audiences. On the surface, the film follows — in close to real-time — one meeting of a building’s co-op board. The owners are all there to weigh in on pressing matters of water use, renovations, and potential elevator installation, but as heads butt and stalemates are reached, it becomes clear that this small gathering serves as a microcosm for dysfunctional governing bodies everywhere — it’s hard not to watch and see one’s own government reflected in the faces of these fallible, bigoted, ornery men and women. Adapting the script from his own play, Havelka avoids the potential stagy pitfalls and turns the constraints into a strength: confined for the majority of the film to a single room, claustrophobia sets in as an active camera ensures that the audience feels like a participant rather than a mere observer. The idiosyncratic cast is well-suited to the film’s tone — emotional swings are modulated to match the narrative as it becomes progressively more tension-filled — with Tereza Voriskova and Andrej Polák standing out in particular as the board manager at the end of her rope and the young gay man forced to tolerate his neighbors’ retrograde comments, respectively. The proceedings eventually lead to a resolution that’s almost too on the nose, until you stop and think about the current state of global affairs — just because it’s obvious doesn’t make it any less effective.