Saturday, September 21, 2013

Prince Avalanche

PRINCE AVALANCHE           B+                
USA  (94 mi)  2013  ‘Scope  d:  David Gordon Green

True love is like a ghost. Everyone talks about it, but few have ever seen it.    

I reap the rewards of solitude… I write letters to your sister, I read, I paint, I sew, I had a cat, so I used to take care of my pet, before it was killed. I have a lot of prescription medications, but I try not to use them.
—Alvin (Paul Rudd)

Here’s to fire in our hearts. Drink up boys. I love the impurities. Mother may I? Yes I may!      —Truck driver (Lance LeGault)

Thank God in heaven that David Gordon Green is back to making indie movies, and this is a beaut…gorgeously sublime, beautifully shot by Green’s longtime cinematographer Tim Orr, a film about making something out of nothing.  The inspiration comes from the devastating aftermath of a 1987 central Texas wildfire laying waste to 43,000 acres, destroying 1600 homes.  Set in the following year, the trees remain starkly barren, but there’s plenty of growth in the underbrush.  Largely philosophical, yet told in a naturalistic manner, perhaps on the surface this is the most simplistic film Green’s ever made, but filled with implications and moral conflicts.  Adapted from a Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson Icelandic movie entitled EITHER WAY (2011), though one is not exactly sure how this rather awkwardly medieval American title was chosen (though there is a reference to a prince who has been banished from his kingdom), sounding a bit more like one of the Merry Men in Robin Hood, though this film has a modernist 20th century bent to it, feeling more like something out of the existential absurdity of Beckett or Ionescu.  The film is about two poor bastards who are stuck working out in the open on a roadside highway construction crew helping rebuild roads cutting straight through the natural devastation, whose job is to paint the yellow lines on the newly paved asphalt over an endless stretch of highway, then glue street reflectors in between, while also placing reflector signposts along the way.  Living a rustic life in a two-man tent along the side of the road, Alvin (Paul Rudd) is the more serious senior partner, the roadside boss, while his underling Lance (Emile Hirsch) shows little aptitude for living outdoors, behaving more like a kid with attention deficit disorder, claiming he’s horny all the time and can’t wait to get back to the city during his time off on weekends.      

Shot in just 16 days, the film is a minimalist display of an economy of means, opening with an extended wordless sequence where the paramount expression throughout is David Wingo’s superb musical score written for the instrumental accompaniment of the Austin-based band Explosions in the Sky, where we immediately rediscover this director’s natural affinity for poetic expression, beautifully balancing sound and image before a single word is spoken.  Despite occasional retreats back into silence, this is a dialogue driven character study that is haunted by the natural environment that envelops them.  Neither character easily expresses their emotions, both hiding behind a façade of convention, where Alvin pretends to know what he’s doing, as it sounds like he always has a reasonable plan, but he’s undercut by his own lack of spontaneity and fun, while Lance is a happy-go-lucky kid that only thinks about sex, as if it’s the only inner drive that matters, yet he also has a contemplative side that he never admits to, as it has little to do with how to score with women.  As these two guys spend every waking hour together, it’s only natural they’d eventually get on each other’s nerves, which parallels the boredom and monotony of carrying out the same repetitive task over and over again, day after day, where the tedium keeps them on edge as well.  While these are the surface realities, the film actually explores the human drama taking place inside each of their lives, where they couldn’t be more different, as Alvin has to plan his every move, while Lance just goes with the flow, relying on his natural instincts to carry him through.  While their lives are slowly evolving, there are subtle intrusions from outside forces that continually alter the landscape just enough to keep the characters (and the audience) off balance, where in one of the more curious sections, in the ruins of a burned out home, Alvin acts out his imaginary good life with his future wife.          

Perhaps most fun are the surprise visits by aging truck driver Lance LeGault, (who died during the making of the film, receiving a dedication notice in the final credits), who hauls heavy loads through the construction zone, often stopping to hand out bottles of moonshine to the work crew while also dishing out various pearls of wisdom before disappearing into the night.  Most mysterious are the repeated appearances by a ghostlike Joyce Payne as The Lady, an elderly woman pained by the fact she lost everything in a fire that destroyed her home, where all that’s left are quickly disappearing memories.  “Sometimes I think that I’m digging in my own ashes.”  Initially viewed by Alvin, who helps her search for lost belongings in the wreckage of her home, later she has a near apparition appearance with the Truck driver, who refuses to acknowledge her presence, though they are often seen together by Alvin and Lance.  In fact, by the end, they both feel like ghosts in denial of their own existence.  Serving as an unlikely interconnection, symbolic of their own as yet undetermined future, caught in the purgatory of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, an inescapable hell on earth, the aging couple’s fading illusions serve as a reminder that our young friends are heading for a similar catastrophe, as Alvin doesn’t understand what his own girlfriend really wants, while Lance continually idealizes his perfect companion.  The dreams of both are heading for certain destruction unless they drop all pretensions and somehow start to actually care about the lives of others.  Afraid to leave their selfish comfort zones, both couldn’t be more vulnerable and awkwardly naked on display out in the middle of the emptiness of a desolate landscape that somehow retains its illuminating vibrancy.  Through a wall of branchless trees still standing, a thriving forest remains in spite of the apocalyptic signs of destruction.  Similarly, when all hope is lost, these two numbskulls literally rise from the ashes and have the chance to walk upon a new day.  There are no illusions that anything will get any better, but having shared and endured each other’s most tragic flaws, they seem better prepared to meet whatever lies beyond the curve of the road and face the unexpected future. 

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