Saturday 14 September 2013

Inflated (2013)

Director: Sterling E Smith
Stars: Brian Klimowski and Sonja
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.
Of all the 22 submissions to this year's IFP Beat the Clock 48 hour film challenge, this was perhaps the most overlooked. While Star Babies was a clear winner in almost everyone's books, I'd personally rate Inflated the runner up, well ahead of Eva's Light, Doubting Thomas and The Neighbors, with a notable drop off to everything else. I should mention that the latter two films weren't eligible for competition, which explains why they didn't win anything. I can't explain why Inflated didn't. Perhaps the message didn't get through to the judges as, without it, the story would appear to revolve around a cheap plot convenience which would notably lessen it. However, it's really the key to the film and an underlining to its message. Watching afresh, it plays even better, and I can easily see this becoming a companion piece in my mind to last year's most underrated IFP film, La Lucha, which is also a deceptively simple but beautifully emotional piece.

For most of the running time, we follow Brian Klimowski through the parks and streets of Flagstaff in chase of a party balloon that is drifting inexorably away from him through the northern Arizona sky. That director Sterling E Smith manages to keep this from becoming boring is a bonus, with nice dolly shots and a varied set of glimpses of Flagstaff, until we find a grounding for it all towards the end of the film. As agreeable as these visuals are, except a pointless moment of pointing, it's the metaphor that lies behind the chase that's important. This is a love story, but it's also a story about love, which is not the same thing. Scott's helium balloon is an avatar for love itself and the script medidates on the idea that searching doesn't always lead to finding but giving up sometimes does. The ending, as brutal and as brutally funny as it is, leaves us with a laugh and a question, to ponder if Scott learned what was important from the adventure that led him to that point. Who knows?

Almost everything is done very right here. It's shot in sharp black and white, with a decent amount of style. Many of the shots are composed not only to show us a well framed image but to set up decent movement within them, something many filmmakers miss. The scene where Scott gives up the chase is a good use of technical limitation, as the balloon slowly fades into the sky. Klimowski is a believable protagonist, an everyday Joe whose dreams should be about to be fulfilled but instead are drifting out of his grasp. His frustration is decent, his pain even better as he delivers the required line. Sonja, who has no surname but plays Aria, the film's other character, gets very little screen time but does quite a lot with it, grounding the story well. It's that story though, by Smith and Brandon Hancock that shines brightest here. It's a shame that their film didn't win anything at Beat the Clock. At many IFP events, the audience can vote on a favourite; we couldn't here, but this would have been my pick.

Inflated can be watched for free on YouTube.

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