Apart From That

Apart From That


Reviewed by: Chris

It's necessary to be open to new forms of cinema, just as cinema needs to be open to real life. Just as effective marketing (brainwashing) can boost one's enjoyment (and the ticket sales) of a relatively artless blockbuster, so a knowledge of the artist's technique can boost one's enjoyment of a largely experimental work.

Shainin and Walker are nothing if not inventive. They make a loose story, find non-actors who can come across effectively as the characters as well as improvising, make two independent edits and then distil it down to two hours.

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The initial flow of the camera around a party feels like a Virginia Woolf novel, a stream of consciousness across an onslaught of characters, with little clue as to what to grasp onto as important. However, unlike Woolf, who used the technique to cull the significant from the seemingly superficial and unimportant, Shainin and Walker go from superficiality to dysfunctionality.

Skimming the veneer of a cross-section of barely related individuals, they present us with people who neither satisfy their dreams nor have much point to their existence. They are neither intelligent nor making the best of what they have and the film - apart from revelling in its own innovativeness - forces us to find delight in their quirkiness in a way that is neither uplifting nor beautiful. Apart From That is the sort of art-house belch that critics fall over each other to praise without being able to say why.

"She was still physically strong, just didn't have any software left," is, in the first few minutes, one of the strongest lines in the film. As the lives of five of the partygoers are unravelled with all the excitement of a long, loose thread coming off a patchwork quilt, we conceive it may apply to Peggy, an old lady who likes taking most of her clothes off and then phoning the fire brigade.

Equally pathetic (and when it is shot with such realism should we laugh?) is the boss who makes a mess of firing his friend and is called to account by his son, who gets him to play act the scene. Peggy's lodger, Ulla, tape records the irritating sounds in her irritating landlady's house, such as the refrigerator. Leo is a native American Indian whose best friend is dying and doesn't know what to do.

Apart From That is like dystopian Reality TV. All the characters want to be loved or liked, without being lovable or likeable. I started wondering at what point we start to care for someone. At what point did any of the characters start to become interesting? Not at the point where a fat woman gets her head and arms stuck in a dress. Perhaps when we see they are trying to achieve something, however ineptly.

Apart From That is a composite rather than linear story - a bit like Magnolia only with fewer redeeming characters, lower production values and, like its characters, with even less tangible reason for existing - for all the innovative development, the end product seems rather derivative, rather like a Todd Solondz movie on a tight budget. It paints an unlikeable picture of 'ordinary' Americans as pathetic, as people who are loved only out of duty.

Whether it is art for art's sake may best be answered by whether it still seems so imaginative when considered a few years from now, when the tendency to embrace its avant-garde pretensions has vanished or been vindicated. Perhaps by then I will have changed my opinion; for now, this two hours of reel life, imaginatively made, sadly has little to say about anything beyond its own brilliant, idiosyncratic quirkiness.

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006
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An exploration of the lives of a group of partygoers.

Director: Jennifer Shainin, Randy Walker

Writer: Jennifer Shainin, Randy Walker

Starring: Susan Alotrico, Tony Cladoosby, Kyle Conyers, Alice Ellingson, Toan Le, Jessica Marlowe-Goldstein, Kathleen McNearney, Michael Sheiman, Gary Schoonveld, Kwami Taha

Year: 2006

Runtime: 120 minutes

Country: US

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