Sunday, January 4, 2015

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench

Currently fêted – more or less with reason – for Whiplash, Damien Chazelle’s first feature, expanded from his graduation short at age 24, was shot in black and white in Boston and New York with a young cast and, at its best, a fine fifties-throwback feel. This is due in large part to an impressively-arranged jazzy orchestral score (by Justin Hurwitz, performed by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra), and the fact that the film turns out to be an unexpected musical; rather like Rivette's Haut Bas Fragile, some way into the movie a character at a party starts to talk in rhyme before bursting into song and dance.

The story concerns Guy (Jason Palmer), a jazz trumpeter, and his girlfriend Madeline (Desiree Garcia) who have split up almost before the opening credits are done, and it meanders along until they meet again by chance at the end. Much of the film in between is fatally inconsequential and there’s nothing like character development, but the jazz club music is terrific (Palmer is a fine trumpeter), and a scene of subway flirtation creates a real erotic charge.

The songs themselves are less successful than the score and for some frustrating reason we rarely get to see the dancers’ feet, but the first number generates excitement from its tiny cramped setting, and there’s some nice group choreography in a diner. There are echoes (no more) of Cassavetes and the nouvelle vague in both form and content; the handheld camerawork is of the popular style, all jittery auto-focus, heavy-handed on the zoom, and over-reliant on close-up, but it does achieve some beautiful moments of light and delicate shades of monochrome (mostly involving the rather pretty Garcia, and despite also an annoyingly substandard digital picture). If not quite a success, definitely an admirably ambitious curio.

d/sc/ph Damien Chazelle p Damien Chazelle, Mihai Dinulescu ed Damien Chazelle, W.A.W. Parker m Justin Hurwitz cast Jason Palmer, Desiree Garcia, Sandha Khin, Karen Adelman, Anna Chazelle, Bernard Chazelle
(2009, USA, 82m, b/w)

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