Wednesday 25 July 2012

Alchemy and Other Imperfections (2011)

Director: Zachary Rothman
Stars: Heather Doerksen, Billy Marchenski and Peter Hall
This film was an official selection at the 8th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Scottsdale in 2012. Here's an index to my reviews of 2012 films.
What a unexpected treat this was! This Canadian short is a great big slice of fantastic quirkiness from the very outset and it didn't let up until the credits rolled at the end. It's also many other things in between. It's a silent movie with sound, as there are only two characters, an unnamed married couple who have lost the ability to speak to each other, so there's precisely no dialogue whatsoever. It's a prose poem, as that gap is filled by Peter Hall, whose explanatory contribution cannot be described merely as narration, his voice as delightfully playful as the bouncy Balkan brass score by Vancouver's Orkestar Šlivovica, who must be a glorious riot live. It's a visual treat, the lush colours and fabulous set design enough to bathe in. At heart, it's a fable, less a story and more a cautionary tale with a number of depths to explore. Oh, and whatever else it is, it's surely the best film ever narrated by a cockroach. That grabbed you, huh?

I find it truly astounding that Zachary Rothman, who wrote, produced and directed, did so on a budget of $800 Canadian. There are Hollywood movies that wish they had as much eye candy as this, ones with five or six more digits in their budgets. I'm not just talking about visual effects like the esoterica that dances around Heather Doerksen's head as she conjures up a plan to fix what can't be fixed. I'm talking about the palpable textures of the set and the costumes, the arcane ephemera that her character dabbles with and the antique mechanics that her screen husband constructs. Surely much of it must have to do with the production design and costumes credited to Enigma Arcana, but it's also in the camera motion, careful choreography and the way that the editing plays with distance and division. This is a movie to feel as much as see and hear, a treat for quite a few different senses.
And all of this means that it's less of a film and more of an experience. Like most fables, it hints at far more than it says, letting its audience find their own meaning and application, so you're not going to get much of a synopsis. Suffice it to say that this couple have a let a single event bury them so deeply in guilt that they've become isolated both from the world and each other. Our little fable is triggered by the woman, a practioner in dark arts, deciding on a possible way to fix things. Naturally it doesn't go quite as she expects. Heather Doerksen and Billy Marchenski do a great deal with their characters, especially as they have no dialogue and are deliberately short on background detail. They both approach their roles like paintings, dabbing an impression here and a suggestion there. I haven't seen either before, but I have seen a film by Rothman: 2006's Lost, which I didn't rate highly and don't remember. This one is a gem I won't forget.

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