Just a few weeks ago, I noted that one of the running topics of discussion coming out of the Berlinale is the turn toward — and in the case of Thomas Arslan, the outright embrace of — genre by filmmakers associated with the Berlin School. Though it'd seem to make little sense to carry on drawing parallels between that loosely affiliated group of German filmmakers with the just as loosely affiliated group of young American filmmakers bundled a few years ago under the "mumblecore" banner, it's difficult to know when to stop — particularly now that Aaron Katz has presented Cold Weather, a beautifully composed feature that all but traces the seduction of seemingly formless lives (and films) by tried-and-true narrative structures. It's also, as many are noting online and off, the first breakout hit of SXSW 2010.
Of course, Aaron Katz isn't the first of the American DIY set to experiment with the blend. Jay and Mark Duplass's Baghead (2008) is a light-footed hybrid of handheld mumble-comedy and cabin-in-the-woods horror (and fine for what it is; Cyrus is far, far better, but hopefully, we'll get to that one soon enough).
Cold Weather "follows the bumbling adventures of Doug (Cris Lankenau), a former forensic science major who drops out of school in Chicago, moves in with his sister (Trieste Kelly Dunn) in Portland, gets a graveyard shift factory job and wastes away his days reading Sherlock Holmes novels and hanging out... until his ex-girlfriend (Robyn Rikoon) shows up and touches off some shady business that requires Doug to put his vague detective skills to work." LA Weekly's Karina Longworth: "It's an impressive experiment in genre in more ways than one: a pulp fiction of troublesome dames and distinctly costumed villains, wedded to conversational comedy..., while also a subtle exploration of friendship, family, and the behavioral differences between the two."
"You could expect a lot of different things from Aaron Katz, but crowd-pleasing proficiency isn't one of them," writes Vadim Rizov at GreenCine Daily. "I spent a lot of time thinking 'They should've let that guy direct Cop Out.' This isn't a slam at all: smooth, humane, well-crafted entertainment is harder than it looks.... If Cold Weather is surprisingly well-plotted on the genre tip, it's also a genuinely original comedy, with big laughs in completely unexpected places. As usual for Katz, it looks great, but the cutting's faster and the mood lighter; Dance Party USA and Quiet City are mood pieces, but this isn't. It works in every sense, buzzing along industriously."
"Ultimately, Cold Weather revolves around the relationship that Doug shares with his sister," writes Eric Kohn at indieWIRE, "as she eventually comes to inhabit the role of Watson to his Holmes, turning the chemistry of the original Victorian duo into a metaphor for familial communication."
Mark Olsen tells the story of the film's making in the Los Angeles Times.
For Filmmaker, David Lowery (who has a pair of terrific trailers here at SXSW this year), Aaron Katz and producers Brendan McFadden and Ben Stambler watch Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown together.
Earlier: James Renovitch's interview with Katz and Lankenau in the Austin Chronicle.
Update, 3/16: Scott Macaulay talks with Katz for Filmmaker.