Wednesday 4 April 2012

Cold Weather

Katz Pyjamas
Cold Weather
USA 2010
Directed by Aaron Katz
Axiom Films Region 2

Warning: The spoiler here is that
there really isn't able to be any spoilers!

Wow! This is an absolutely amazing little film for lovers of leisurely paced cinema where not a lot really happens... and I mean that in the nicest way. This movie is a thing of beauty and I’m gonna tell everyone I know to take a look at it.

Unassuming and quietly persistent, the film is, perhaps, a trifle hard done by if I conclude, as I just did, that nothing really does happen in it. That’s patently untrue... stuff does happen I guess... but as you’ll see as I review it, the stuff that happens, the little incidents that add character to the rich palette of personalities on screen, is all about the quiet weight of their gradual occurrences and is not about servicing a story. It does have a story... but it also doesn’t.

I’m going to have to explain this a bit more aren’t I?

Cold Weather tells the “story” of Doug, who has gone to stay with his seemingly friendless and hard working sister after he has dropped out, probably from lack of interest by the feel of it, from College where he was studying forensic science. He gets a job hauling heavy loads at an ice factory which astonishes his sister Gail, who already knows what slowly sinks into the audience as the film progresses, that Doug is a bit of a gentle genius and is kinda wasting himself.

Doug makes friends with a work colleague and fellow ice lugger, Carlos, who starts to hang around with him and Gail and Doug’s ex-girlfriend Rachel, who turns up for a while. Doug is a fan of classic detective literature, especially Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and so he lends a collection of some of the stories to Carlos, who also starts to get into the adventures of the classic English detective. Carlos also starts to get into Rachel quite heavily, after taking her to a Star Trek convention.

And then Rachel goes missing and the three friends - Doug, Gail and Carlos - find themselves involved in a real life adventure story. Shenanigans follow as our heroes try to find out where Rachel is, why she has gone missing and, after Rachel resurfaces, how they can best help her with the trouble she has gotten herself into.

Except... that isn’t it at all.

You see, the mystery story which seems to be the actual point of the movie just kinda stops half way through as the movie ends... which will probably leave a lot of people either confused or angry as most people will want to know what happens next. Actually though, the point at which the story is just dropped does actually leave it somewhere that you can draw some conclusion and partial closure from, if you so desire... although the way it is left does kind of set it up for what happens next... which turns out to be the roll of the credits actually.

What’s happened here is the story is purely used to be something to hang on a series of small incidents to better develop the chemistry of the characters. It’s a movie about the way people are with each other and how they co-exist and make allowances for each other. Most of the little sequences do not serve the “story” in any way, shape or form, they just exist as a window to the foibles and whims of the characters. Sometimes this kind of film-making is accused of being indulgent but... well I’ve never really understood why that should be a criticism of art. In the case of Cold Weather, too, we’re talking about great art. Surely one wants the writer, director and performers to indulge themselves a little (or even a lot). The movie is the sum of the artists working on it... it doesn’t all have to be the “cause and effect” mode of “Hollywood storytelling” which seems to have, unfortunately, caught on over the years. This movie is better than that.

Let me give you an example...

Doug wants to be a private detective. When he’s deep into trying to solve the mystery, Doug decides to take up smoking like his literary hero Sherlock Holmes. So he goes to buy a pipe, eventually finding something in his “less than modest” price range. As Gail drives him home from the pipe shop, he realises that he’s not bought any tobacco. So they stop somewhere else and he gets some. This would be considered a pretty pointless moment by most cinema audiences and certainly is not a scene necessary to carrying forward any story. What it does do though, is lend further weight to the use of the pipe as a symbolic metaphor for the focussing of thought as opposed to the normal purpose a pipe is used for. This is a moment about character motivation... not story. And this film is full of those lovely little moments which add substance to the characters but which do not serve any real purpose other than that. And when Doug gets home and tries smoking the pipe, it doesn’t do much for him anyway... although Carlos seems to get into it a little later on in the film. Pointless but absolutely brilliant... now this is good movie making.

The film is just totally amazing. The photography is truly beautiful and very clean and clearly defined. The colours used aren’t primary but they’re very interesting and not quite neutral palettes being used... the film is called Cold Weather, though, and some of the colour choices are in sympathy with this, I feel. It’s got a catchy, addictive and simplistic score by Keegan Dewitt which you’ll have going through your head for a while... and it’s just filled with beautiful little moments like those I’ve described above... it’s a film which is about people, not story. Sure, there is a story element involved, but that story is used to as a framework to purely explore elements of the characters in the story, in situations that might not usually come up, rather than as an end unto itself. Or, to put it another way, the characters are the story... and don’t serve any larger goal than that.

If I was to compare this film to any other director working today I think I’d have to conclude that, dialogue style aside, the film is a close spiritual cousin to the movies of Hal Hartley... and to be honest I could think of no greater compliment than that, Hartley is my directing hero.

Cold Weather, if you haven’t already guessed this by now, comes with one of my highest recommendations for movies. If you like the laid back and gentle style which has come to be associated with a lot of US Independent film then this movie is right up your alley. The characters will stay with you long after the movie has finished.

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