Around the Bay / Canary
Around the Bay
(Alejandro Adams, 2008)
(Alejandro Adams, 2009)
These two films are the work of director Alejandro Adams, which I’ve been turning over and over in my mind since I watched them. Both exhibit intelligence, experimentation and artistry, but they are each from such different genres and points on the spectrum that I am having difficulty joining them thematically, if such a thing should even be done. But still I feel there is a connection, and not just in that they were directed by the same man.
Around the Bay is the more traditional story of the pair, which isn’t to say that it’s told that way. It’s the story of a perpetually broken family, with an emotionally distant man (Steve Voldseth) asking his estranged daughter (Katharine Celio) to help care for his 5 year old son, Noah, from a newly-ended second relationship. The daughter accepts, perhaps in an effort to reconnect with her father, but quickly finds herself overwhelmed, since young Noah can appear sweet and silly one moment, and bratty and violent the next, as children sometimes do. Meanwhile, instead of solving the rising chaos in his home, Dad is off courting a former girlfriend (Katharine Darling), and recruiting her as well, more for aid than companionship.
The cold aura and deliberate pacing of Around the Bay define the contemplative nature of the adult characters’ household. While the child is often seen as active, he is also painfully lonely and desirous of love, or at least attention. The heartbreaking detachment these family members all exude comes to a head when they clash, mostly over the raising of Noah. It’s a disturbing reflection of the 21st century family core, of raising and resenting of children, of the impact of autonomy over warmth.
Distance is also inherent in Adams’ Canary, primarily in its main character, a figurative angel of death (Carla Pauli) employed by a creepy corporation involved in the repossession of human organs for profit. Pauli mutely drifts through a dystopian near-future in which healthcare can be either be provided or retracted.
Canary strives to be low-budget science fiction in the vein of Shane Carruth’s Primer, in which the audience gets entranced by the mechanisms of the twisting plot, and forgives the lack of special effects. Unfortunately, Canary‘s budget is not truly a problem; it’s the nature of the filmmaking, which is purposefully cryptic, almost to the point of hostility. Several scenes feel loosely improvised and are left open to interpretation, and sometimes require actual interpretation, since there are no subtitles for prolonged exchanges in Russian, Vietnamese and German. Is the physical removal of organs a further reflection on the detachment from humanity? I’m not certain, but until the final third of the film, I felt frustrated by not being able to fight my way into this Chinese box of a film, which relies upon its audience to fill in meaning so often that one might well quit caring.
In that crucial finale, we are introduced to a single mother, challenged with the responsibility of her young daughter, when suddenly the ghostly angel of death/repo girl begins lurking nearby. While certainly uncommitted to a solitary message, the outcome of their encounter remains haunting and memorable. I only wish I hadn’t felt nearly numb when it arrived.
Canary will screen at Rooftop Films in Brooklyn, NY on August 7th, 2009. See canarymovie.com for details.