Wednesday 14 May 2014

Blue (2014)

Directors: Jae Staats and Jason Francois
Stars: Colleen Hartnett and Michael Hanelin
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.
Still best known at IMDb for a feature that hasn't even been released yet, Colleen Hartnett is nonetheless fleshing out her filmography. When filmmakers were asked to stand up and be recognised at the Arizona Shorts set at this year's Phoenix Film Festival, she was representing no less than three selections: After the Beep, Blue and Star Babies. She had another, Perorities, accepted into the Home Grown Shorts set too, but as a director rather than an actor, making her clearly as versatile a lady as she is a busy one. If I dare to suggest that, played together, After the Beep is the best of these four films, I'm not denigrating the others, which are surely an impressive set. Blue is a strong picture too, which is why it racked up a few wins at the IFP Phoenix Breakout Challenge earlier this year, including one for Best Picture over the strong competition of Kristin LaVanway's Conundrum. Hartnett also picked up a far clearer win for Best Actress, by comparison a gimme as she was in a class of her own. Both won for the year too.

Ironically, because it did so well at this IFP Phoenix film challenge, it was directed by the folk behind the valley's other long running film challenge, the Almost Famous Film Festival, more usually known as A3F. Jae Staats is the founder, president and treasurer, while Jason Francois is his vice president, so between them, they pretty much are A3F. It's great to see these two events, surely the two largest generators of new short films in Arizona, connect and do so in such an impressive way. The flipside was that TJ Houle and Aaron Kes, the program directors at IFP Phoenix, contributed a film, Stolen Afternoon, to this year's A3F 48 hour challenge, landing in the top three for comedy and in the opinions of the audience. Clearly these local challenges are in capable hands, especially if I add that a couple of years ago Kes also made one of my favourite local films ever, La Lucha, before ascending from mere competitor to IFP staff. Let's see what 2015 will bring! It should be interesting.

Daring to choose between Blue and Conundrum is a tough and highly debatable call, as there are strong arguments for each film, but I'd nudge Blue ahead because of its depth and resonance. It appears to be very simple, merely following a couple whose relationship is falling apart to the point where it's going to break unless they can find a way to reconnect. Whether they actually do or not is teasingly up for grabs, but the film invites analysis and interpretation without ever obscuring the general flow, so this is a great choice to watch and then sit back and discuss at your favourite local bar or coffee house. You could start by pondering on just how far the title has its hooks into Alex Whitmer's script. There's a lot of blue here, starting with the mood at the breakfast table as Gavin and Alice eat their cereal. Most obviously, it's the colour of his bowl, as his OCD is offended by her not eating out of a matching one. Hers is white and it's clear that the ensuing argument is about a lot more than just crockery.

When Alice asks, 'You know we're talking about bowls, right?' Gavin is but she isn't. She's talking about them, the fact that their mismatch goes far beyond such a ridiculous detail. Their clothes take sides too; she's dressed in white, but he's wearing a blue shirt. Even his eyes are blue while hers aren't. This is the sort of film where we pay attention to that sort of thing. While the script soon focuses on Alice not Gavin, Michael Hanelin's supporting slot is especially haunting, one of his least ambiguous. 'You're not in this marriage any more,' he tells his partner. 'I don't know where you are.' The lines are believably banal, though deceptively so, but his delivery is what sells them, especially as his eyes back them up. Hanelin makes Gavin look completely lost, unable to fathom how they got to this point but also unable to figure out a way forward. When she asks him to, 'Do something, something that proves that you can see me,' his only response is to leave. And, of course, the focus shifts to Alice alone. And more blue, naturally.

Backed up from here only by the technical side, the neat transitions from Staats (wearing his editor hat), crisp cinematography from Joel Kaye and clean sound from Joe Chilcott, Blue becomes a Colleen Hartnett showcase all the way to the finalé. Already grounded as a character through a set of incisive responses and a mildly edgy show of sexual frustration, she gets stronger as a character even as she shows us her weaknesses. Of course she cries, because it wouldn't be a Colleen Hartnett picture without some tears (surely her tombstone will carry a teardrop and a glass of red wine along with her name), but what else she does will imprint this film over a number of others onto our retinae to compare future performances to. This is one of the strongest roles I've seen her play and I've seen plenty, many of which pair her with Hanelin, certainly the most consistently broken screen couple in local film. If there's a flaw, it's in how quickly it all ends, but that's excusable given the time limits of these competitions and hardly major.

1 comment:

Jae Staats said...

This is Jae Staats, co-Director of Blue. I just wanted to thank you for one of the most thoughtful and thorough reviews of our film. You have a true gift for expressing yourself and also translating what you see on screen to pen/paper. Really enjoyed reading this and you picked up on so many details. Well done!