As I walked into the Laemmle NoHo 7, I saw the various posters and adverts for the movies being screened on display. A couple of studio films, a few independent films and finally a place card for "Backgammon", the film I was about to review. I felt a rush of excitement as I wandered into the theatre, being there earlier than almost anyone else. The excitement I felt was born of a very real sense of camaraderie with the filmmaker and all those involved in helping to get this project done, from script to screen.
Having just directed my first feature last summer, that camaraderie was deepened once I found out that "Backgammon" was the director's first feature film as well. I had first hand knowledge of how impossible it is for any film to be made, let alone securing the financing for a first feature. Time, expense, tenacity and a lot of blind faith was involved in the production of this or any film.
Sitting comfortably in my chair, the audience started pouring in. In a way I felt I was rehearsing my own anxiety when the time came for me to showcase my film. The lights dimmed and the film began.
The opening sequence featured lovely, lyrical camera work that would repeat time and time again during the telling of this story. Lucian, played by an up and coming young actor, Noah Silver, seems at first to be a brooding and sad individual, setting the tone for the film. He is quickly joined by Miranda, played by the wonderful Brittany Allen, a woman clearly, and gloriously, on a downward spiral, who loses, and finds herself as the story unfolds. Miranda is cooking bacon sandwiches and talk about the night before. The time line shifts back and forth, rather cleverly playing with the audience’s sense of reality. The events that occurred the night before, with Lucian's girlfriend Elisabeth, played perfectly by Olivia Crocicchia and Miranda's boorish artist boyfriend Gerald, who the fine young actor Alex Beh brings vividly to life, are revealed to be a tripping point for everyone. The story time shifts to the night before and we are introduced, however briefly to Miranda's brother Andrew, the owner of the house, played brilliantly by Christian Alexander.
The house in which the whole story revolves is a character in and of itself, but like the time shifts and the flow of the story, I felt as if I visited all the rooms, but I still wasn't sure of the floor plan. The story as it is told has the same effect, keeping us ever so sightly off balance. We understand the characters and what they are saying, but we are not moved in the same direction they are, as if we are occasional visitors to the story unfolding before us. There is a disconnect with the characters and the story walking in spiraling circles and we are not entirely sure who the story is about at times, which I liked, it’s unusual, as if the audience is deciding who is central to the story. Gerald the artist comes across as a lout and a boar and not very likable, creating a hugely stressful situation and when Lucian doesn't follow his girlfriend out of the house when she leaves, it is clearly because of his mysterious attraction to Miranda, although he seems to be attempting to understand what it is that drives him to her.
There’s a discussion of Gerald's art work, poetry and a lot of drinking. Gerald becomes more belligerent and a bottle is thrown, then Gerald leaves or disappears and the rest of the movie becomes a cat and mouse chase that involves missing art work and mysterious sounds in the dark, and when Lucian doesn't follow his girlfriend out of the house when she leaves, it is clearly because of his mysterious attraction to Miranda, a feeling he is attempting to understand as he is driven to her. There is more talk and more drinking and by the time we find out what happened to Gerald, nothing seems inevitable.
The music is composed by Bryan Senti, and does its job beautifully, never overplayed or over used. The cinematography, by Simon Coull, is fluid and not only follows the characters, but sometimes remains still enough to give us the sensation of eavesdropping on something we shouldn't be privy too. It’s such an interesting blend of observational and intimate, sometimes so close we are inside the characters and sometimes so removed its as if we were watching a play. As the characters fall apart and their story unravels the camera pulls back more and more as if examining rather than understanding, which is a very intriguing choice.
Regarding the two leads, Lucian and Miranda, the quiet moments are the best, and when the two are in the same room as the art I got a sense of calm and that all would be revealed to me and even a possibility that it would all work out for them. However, I never felt that I understood the ‘why’ of the relationship between Lucian and Miranda, which is perhaps the point in the end.
As for the script, written by Todd Niemi, R.B. Russell and Francisco Orvananos, I must say that despite, or perhaps because of the idiosyncrasies in the story, I did find myself taken away into this world of pain and solitude. My instinct was to feel connected with Lucian and Miranda, but instead, and more unusually, we were all alone together. The direction was confident and felt purposeful and of a first feature I felt the director, Francisco Orvananos should be very proud of his debut. In the end what really matters is that a vision was realized and presented to the world, what we as individuals make of it is of course up to us, and the best cinema is always the most personal.
I have to say, I am really looking forward to Francisco Orvananos’s next adventure in filmmaking.
**** For information on Los Angeles theatre, tickets to theatre in North Hollywood's NoHo Arts District, theatre reviews, the NoHo Event Calendar, restaurants, news and local businesses in NoHo, or anything and everything about the NoHo Arts Community, bookmark nohoartsdistrict.com. Follow us on Twitter @OfficialNoHo.