Title: The Art of Sitting Quietly and Doing Nothing
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Nick Alonzo
Starring: Alex Serrato, Alycya Magana, Adriana Miranda
Runtime: 80 mins
What It Is: Carl, an impulsive young man, escapes to the woods to reflect on a recent break-up. He soon discovers the challenges of running away from an internal problem and gets a psychedelic awakening.
What We Think: Juxtaposition is a powerful tool. Director Nick Alonzo, in his second feature-length, understands this and runs with it: the dull greys of urban Chicago with the deep greens of the woods, dick jokes with the theme of finding peace in nature, and a dude in a Pink Floyd shirt with the burden of cooking a fish in the middle of a forest. Collectively, these are clever images and situations that feel surprisingly mature and, perhaps appropriately, meditative. This is a story we’ve all encountered before, after all. Carl, our protagonist, is a horribly incompetent schlub trying to find peace in isolation, hoping to swap his pain for resolve or closure. Though the film bears a lot of the trappings of a micro-budget feature (stuff goes in and out of focus, the audio balance is a little off, so on and so forth), the story is at least presented in an oddly thoughtful manner. Alonzo establishes a unique style by juggling dry, the absurdist comedy with a very quiet narrative. The film is also smarter than it lets on – Carl is never too far away from the rest of civilization. People are often seen in the far background during his “nature retreat,” and vehicle noises constantly interrupt the tranquility. It’s details like this that elevate the film from being a quirky little story to an admirable one. However, these clever parts can only distract the viewer from very flawed filmmaking techniques for so long. The acting is not one of the film’s strengths, with Alex Serrato often portraying Carl with little to no nuance. A restrained performance is not the same as the one that’s lacking and monotonous. It’s hard to resonate with his character throughout, but the film still works without being a character study. The cinematography and editing are equally imperfect, sometimes having no regard for flow. Regardless, I enjoyed the film purely as an offbeat take on a break-up story, with elements that feel funny and fresh while not being particularly well-executed. It makes me interested to see more from Alonzo, but for a film that takes its title from Matsuo Basho’s poetry, one is ironically hard-pressed to find a solid message underneath it all.
Our Grade: C, This was a film with a bunch of good ideas. I can’t say it’s a very good film, but what it does have is a strong creative voice. It’s a piece that demonstrates potential, and there’s an unmistakable charm because of that. But if you’re looking for a fully-formed product, you won’t necessarily have a good time with it.