Sunday, September 16, 2012

Homeward Bound: "Cut From Home" (2009)

Writer/director Jason Shahinfar had a crazy idea for a film. Take non-professional actors, give them no props, and let them improvise their dialogue in order to obtain naturalistic performances and intimate moments on a hand-held video camera with no artificial light source. Who would have thought this would work out so well?

Sam (Sam Mallo) and Dani (Dani Niedzielski) are wandering around the little-seen tourist-free Savannah, Georgia area. They are aimless, and seem to be avoiding going home. In flashback, we see they had a young daughter, and we learn a little more (but never enough) about what they are avoiding as they meet up with some of the locals. Sam is prone to self-destructive behavior- chain smoking, drinking, shoplifting, and picking fights. Dani wants a real home life. She complains about having to sleep on an air mattress in abandoned houses, but is never shrewish about her ignored needs. While eating at a friend's house, the couple almost come to blows, arguing over whose fault it is that they are in their current living situation, and part ways. The couple may or may not get back together, but we spend more time with Sam, as he reaches out to an emotionally distant brother, and later finds Dani walking on a dark street in the middle of the night...

I had a lot of trepidation before viewing this film. All of my expectations were quickly dashed. While Shahinfar's camera work is great (a little shaky here and there), he and his editor, Jason D. Yi, find some incredibly raw moments to show the viewer. The young couple don't just wander around and talk to a bunch of colorful rejects from "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," they meet other real people, and the conversations that result are documentary-like. Despite using only natural light, cinematographer (and story writer) Brian Udoff thankfully does not require the viewer to squint at the screen and ponder just what the hell is going on.

The cast, if we can call it that, is flawless. Niedzielski is wonderful and easy on camera. The couple never has a false moment, and made me question whether they were dating in real life. This is Sam Mallo's first lead role, and he had better get more after this. His performance is strong and heart wrenching, and I hope many will take notice. The argument in the friend's apartment during dinner is so real and so raw, it will have you squirming for hours.

The soundtrack consists of some bar songs, and classical music, and works. Despite the improvised script, Shahinfar is still able to follow a story arc, so we aren't bored watching some dude and his girlfriend walk around tourist sites in southeast Georgia. I wanted to watch these two damaged characters try to deal with their unnamed pain, but I never felt voyeuristic or holier-than-thou about them. You can find more information on the film at www.cutfromhomethefilm.com.

I haven't seen many films released this year, but I can honestly say "Cut From Home" is the best film of 2009 so far. Now I shiver at what a mainstream Hollywood production company would have done with this, or some conceited film student out there who also has a camera and decides "I can do that." Oh, Jason Shahinfar (a name to remember), what have you done?! (* * * * *) out of five stars.