Saturday, April 19, 2014

Hide Your Smiling Faces

HIDE YOUR SMILING FACES         B               
USA  (81 mi)  2013  d:  Daniel Patrick Carbone           Official site

While this is an American indie film drawing a lot of praise from a variety of film circles, many claiming it is reminiscent of other coming-of-age films like Ken Loach’s KES (1969), Rob Reiner’s STAND BY ME (1986), Harmony Korine’s GUMMO (1997), David Gordon Green’s George Washington (2000), or Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ THE KINGS OF SUMMER (2013), all of which is pretty hefty acclaim that the film doesn’t really live up to.  Perhaps people are starved for a return to that style of American indie filmmaking, or perhaps it’s a welcome shift from the ordinary and mundane commercial filmmaking that critics wish to support.  In any course it’s a distinctive style, even austere by indie standards, dark and foreboding throughout, where the undercurrent threat of dread is everpresent, where one might conjure up thoughts of Michael Haneke having had a hand in producing this morbid little film.  However, purely in terms of setting a distinctly creepy tone, it doesn’t stand up to the more uniquely original style of edgy Canadian filmmaker Denis Côté in Vic + Flo Saw a Bear (2013), which is more horrifyingly tragic in an adult sense.  Arkansas born Jeff Nichols remains the current American indie standard bearer with films like SHOTGUN STORIES (2007) and Mud (2012), both showing kids at different ages, where all his films express a rare transcendent poetry.  While others may attribute those qualities to this film, that’s actually what’s missing in this film, which feels overly predicable even from the opening shot that shows a Darwinian universe in play.  Carbone is a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he broke into the film business as a cinematographer in various short films, also Matthew Petock’s initial feature A LITTLE CLOSER (2011), a rural Virginia family drama that also drew similarities to David Gordon Green, Paste Magazine [Curtis Woloschuk], “employing similarly lush lensing courtesy of Daniel Patrick Carbone but dispensing with the overt lyricism.”  Petock is the script supervisor of Carbone’s directorial debut, where both films, interestingly enough, examine the dynamics between two brothers hanging around on the outer fringes of society. 

Caught up in the atmospheric enthrall of its own established rhythm and mood, the film takes place on the outskirts of a seemingly idyllic American town, an undeveloped stretch of woods and open space that for all practical purposes has been deserted, leaving it prime turf for young boys to explore in their daily adventures, where they’re often seen just aimlessly wandering around in the woods.  In this way, they have a reclusive habitat of their own to retreat to where no adult supervises or stands watch over them.  At ages 14 and 9, brothers Eric (Nathan Varnson) and Tommy (Ryan Jones) have free reign to roam, often seen both on the same bike, occasionally playing with one of Tommy’s friends, Ian (Ivan Tomic), or part of a boy collective in an open field where all the adolescent boys in the region apparently gather to loosely form a circle while two supposed equals pair off and fight one another, with appropriate rabid encouragement.  This rite of passage becomes part of the underlying theme of the film, especially when these kids constantly get themselves into endless trouble.  What strikes one about these kids is the typical bullying tactics of older brother Eric, but he takes it to another level, escalated by signs of danger everywhere, including the decaying remains of birds, cats, and dogs, where the kid’s fascination with dead things becomes part of their banal existence.  After an argument with his Dad (Colm O’Leary), where Ian is caught showing Eric and Tommy his Dad’s gun, his Dad’s irate response sends Ian deep into the forest where his body is discovered shortly afterwards lying at the bottom of a bridge.  With an eerie sound design by Chris Foster and Peter Townsend, cinematography by Nicholas Bentgen, and original music by Robert Donne, the established mood is one of menace and horror, where this isn’t the lyrically gorgeous world of David Gordon Green, but one that lingers in dark murky waters. 

Neighborly hostilities with Ian’s Dad escalate to near psychotic proportions, where Eric criminalizes his anger, becoming something of a danger to himself and others with his explosive outbursts, initially leaving a dead cat on the doorstep after believing his dog was stolen, eventually breaking into the neighbor’s house and trashing it, where underlying this seething rage are suicidal thoughts of self-loathing, even pointing a rifle in his own brother’s face, often threatening to dangle him off the same bridge where his friend died, where Eric has this idyllic pastoral world at his disposal but hates his existence.  While there may be homoerotic undertones built into the internalized anguish and tension, the absence of girls seems a glaring oversight, as one can only imagine how some of this crude, anti-social hostility might play out with the opposite sex.  Distrust, lack of communication, alienation, rage, no moral boundaries, and teenage morbidity seem to drive this film deeper into the restless unease of male adolescence.  The question is whether a reliance on moodiness can sustain the overall tension without veering into horror territory, where the emotional void leaves the lives of these kids fairly undeveloped, often appearing coldly uninteresting, as they are so self-absorbed, where they could give a crap about others.  Carbone, however, never figures out where to go with this kind of bleak, fatalistic view bordering on nihilism, as jail time, for one, certainly comes to mind, but the director is not interested in existing realities.  Instead he harbors a kind of mythical innocence bordering on fantasy, believing that behind the hooliganism, suicidal tendencies, and reckless death threats, there’s the potential for goodness in each of these boys.  Incredibly, that is the Father Flanagan message in BOYS TOWN (1938), as each boy has their own moral cross to bear, and whether resorting to dreams, mythical reality, or simply an unorthodox turn in the minimalist narrative, the director, who also writes, produces, and edits this film, insists upon a contrived redemption, even if it never for a second feels believable or well-deserved.       

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Hide Your Smiling Faces is an experimental film, and although not everything works perfectly, I think the filmmaker shows a lot of promise. I'll make sure to check out his future works.