by Jay Seaver
SCREENED AT THE 2007 INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL OF BOSTON: There were a number of films to choose from in this slot in the festival. I landed in "Quiet City" in part through process of elimination: This one got out too late to make the next one, that one was at another theater, that one would play again later. Once it was down to two or three choices, I chose "Quiet City" because the description read a lot like Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise". I liked that movie a lot, and I couldn't help but wonder why more independent filmmakers don't try to do something like it.After all, it seems straightforward enough - you just need a boy and a girl and a city. In this case, the girl is Jamie (Erin Fisher), who just flew into New York City from Atlanta to meet an old friend. The boy is Charlie (Cris Lankenau), who she asks for directions in the subway. He takes her to the diner where Jamie's friend Sam said they'd meet, but Sam doesn't show and doesn't answer her phone. So Jamie crashes in Charlie's apartment and they spend the next day wandering around the city, looking for Sam and killing some time before going to an art show that Robin (Sarah Hellman), another friend of Jamie's, has going.
"A pleasant sensation, partly because it's familiar."
It seems logistically simple enough, but the very simplicity of it means that if the one crucial element fails, the whole thing becomes a disaster. Here, we've got to enjoy watching Jamie and Charlie together, because there's almost nothing else: No mystery to figure out, no ironies to savor, no action to dazzle. They are good company, though: Charlie's a scruffy but not ickily so, and he's not quite sure what to make of having this pretty girl attach herself to him. Jamie's playful, enjoying a break from her adult responsibilities, cute without being anything close to high-maintenance about it. They've both got a sense that they've stumbled onto something good, but aren't going to jinx it by mentioning it or making the first move.
Considering the scant credits Fisher and Lankenau have (during the Q&A, Fisher described herself as not really being an actor), they do pretty well. Part of that is likely due to this being a heavily-improvised movie; while there was a full script, director Aaron Katz more or less just let his leads get to know each other on camera. There's plenty of genuine awkwardness and charm on display, but not much in the way of stiffness: There's a chance that Katz was just relentless in cutting away everything that didn't work, but there are a few plot-advancing scenes that couldn't be skipped, and Fisher and Lankenau, along with the rest of the cast, are pretty good there. They also display some pretty good comic timing at a couple points ("where's the hat?").
Quiet City falls into the "mumblecore" genre/movement/style, and that's where - for this audience member, at least - it comes up short, especially in comparison to Before Sunrise. Linklater's characters talked about art, politics, culture, and romance; they came from different backgrounds, and the very words and sentences they used were interesting. Quiet City is much less artificial, but a little less vibrant because of it, and for every couple of people who look at it and say "yes, that's it exactly! That's just what it's like! Brilliant!", there will probably be one who says "yes, that's it exactly, that's just what it's like, what's the big deal?"
Aaron Katz's choices as a director parallel that, to some extent. There's a scene toward the beginning where the camera is pointed at a subway car's window, watching the emergency lights on the wall go by for what seems like an eternity, but is probably just something like forty-five seconds. He does also get some interesting shots of the city, often during sunrise and sunset to give the picture an orange cast. He recognizes that this sort of film is voyeuristic and plays with it, often shooting through windows, showing moments where one of Jamie and Charlie is asleep, and having them break into Sam's apartment. They're nice little reminders of how, despite the seeming nonchalance of the characters, we are seeing something intimate."Quiet City" isn't "Before Sunrise", but Katz doesn't have either the relatively polished cast or budget that Linklater had. What he's got serves him pretty well, though, and he does a nice job of presenting the same sensation of falling in love quickly with someone met by chance.
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originally posted: 05/07/07 16:59:32