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Monday, 16 December 2013

Long Way (2013)

Director: Josh Kasselman
Stars: Flynn Burdick and James Patrick Taylor
This film was a submission to one of the IFP Phoenix film challenges in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 submissions.
This film was an official selection at the Phoenix Film Festival in Phoenix in 2014. Here's an index to my reviews of 2014 films.
Long Way was a big winner at this year's IFP Phoenix Mystery Box Challenge, perhaps the big winner, as it was acclaimed by both the judges and the audience, the latter voting it their favourite and the former ranking it the runner up behind After the Beep and rewarding Josh Kasselman as Best Director. I found it an enticing film that took a refreshingly different approach to its competitors. However, while it's surely worthy of much discussion, something very apparent in the days after the event, it's such a loosely clad framework that there are no answers anywhere to be found, only what questions we bring with us. This means that the piece is akin to a cloud whose shape changes over time but looks only like what we see in it. Like a cloud, it also drifts away from us and we're happy to focus on the next one. I'm interested to see how this one will stay with me; unlike other Mystery Box films that displayed what they were worth and then left, this one has already suggested that it isn't done with me yet. I'm still not sold though.

We watch two boys, well played by Flynn Burdick and James Patrick Taylor. We don't know their names or anything else about them, just that one is older than the other and that they're stuck at school after everyone else has gone home. 'I think she forgot about us,' one says to the other. And so they walk off down the canal. It's daytime but it's also Hallowe'en, so it doesn't take long for other kids to go trick or treating. Our boys vaguely join in, even though they're not really prepared; one has a donkey mask, the other nothing but a spare shirt to put on his head and a pair of swimming goggles. They find some brief enjoyment in the evening, but the excitement fades and worry sets in. 'Do you know where we are?' the little ones ask. Clearly not is the unspoken answer. Eventually we reach the last shot, which could well be the end of our story or the beginning of another one. The script is so ambiguous that we really have no way of figuring that out whatsoever.

The film is capably put together, loose in the extreme but never without something interesting to show us. While director Josh Kasselman has made a few renowned short films, he's also a documentarian; the other film of his that I've seen is Say What You Want, which won Best Arizona short at the Phoenix Film Festival last year. It's strange to see someone so often driven by truth make something as intangible as this. It reminded me of Nobody Knows, Hirokazu Koreeda's searing drama about children left to fend for themselves by their mother, with a similar tone and attention to little details that may or may not have meaning. Nobody Knows benefits from feature length, so we get to know the children and at least meet their mother. Here we just have two boys on one evening, with no context to explain why they're alone. It could be a nod to a similar fate, but it could be a tragic oversight or something else entirely. We have too little information to know anything, so can only focus on the details and wonder.

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