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CUFF 09: "Impolex" (Perry, USA)


Small festivals are as full of surprises as big ones are full of letdowns. Impolex screened only once at the Chicago Underground Film Festivalthis year. It's a shoddy war picture or maybe the fantasy some woman is having about her soldier boyfriend, or a parody of The Thin Red Line, the dreaming and contemplating servicemen transformed into a single narcoleptic doofus. The master here, the man who provides director Alex Ross Perry with the tools, is Luc Moullet. This is less a question of emulation than foundation (further foundations: as a final half-joke, the film ends with a bibliography that includes, amongst a list of World War II-related research materials, Gravity's Rainbow), and the cornerstones seem to be Moullet's A Girl Is a Gun (for its approach to a genre) and The Smugglers (for its back-and-forth plot and settings).

A sleepy tramp in a soldier's uniform, Riley O'Bryan has the name of a character actor and the frame of a silent comedian. He speaks in a monotone mumble (the kind that passes for philosophical or comical, depending on the film) without ever quite closing or opening his mouth and always looks like he's being yelled at. Supplied with a a manila folder full of confidential instructions and a pack full of bananas to eat, he wanders through a forest looking for unexploded rockets, which he improbably keeps losing. He's a send-up of Pynchon's Tyrone Slothrop – a burlesque of a burlesque. Occasionally, his girlfriend (Kate Lyn Sheil, whose succintness is the jarring foil to O'Bryan's inarticulate good nature) from back home intervenes, and he has run-ins with an escaped bandit prone to slapping people across the head and a one-eyed sailor who feeds him further information about his mission. But mostly he stumbles, gets lost or confused, eats bananas, and falls asleep. All of this is shot with an artless (it's cinema, not art!) directness whose lack of pretension sometimes becomes beauty, as when – in what's either a flashback or a dream or some reality – Sheil, her face in a nine-minute long close-up, tells a half-interested O'Brien the story of her longing for him. We need more movies like this.

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