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Wicker Kittens
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by Jay Seaver

"Put together well enough."
3 stars

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2014: On my coffee table, underneath the piles of other stuff that has been dropped there over the course of the last couple of years, is a half-completed jigsaw puzzle - the penguins are done but the plain white ice and blue sky are mostly still in pieces. The competitive puzzlers of "Wicker Kittens" almost certainly would not approve, but I'm not terribly ashamed: The interesting details are a lot more immediately rewarding than the repetitive background, even if you need the later for the piece to be complete.

Amy C. Elliot's brief documentary isn't exactly slacking on anything the way that I am, but it's not just the short 52-minute ruining time that might make the audience like it hasn't been constructed all the way to the edge - it's the expectations that come with the offbeat-competition genre. The event she has chosen (the jigsaw contest at the St. Paul Winter Carnival) does not have a long enough history to give it even a peculiar weight of tradition; it's not an activity that necessarily lends itself to striking visuals or editing that can boost suspense; and the usual storylines that could serve as a narrative plot just don't emerge. Nobody is exactly overcoming adversity, the various entrants don't interact much, and there aren't really any rivalries. It is pretty drama-free.

That's not necessarily a problem; it's actually kind of a nice change of pace to watch something like this and be meet with a wall of Midwestern good cheer, both from the four teams of four that Elliott follows but from Monika Kopet, the chipper young woman organizing the event. Almost everybody involved seems to be pleasant, aware of their eccentricity but without a whole lot in the way of snobbery, and even when they're at their most competitive or even contentious, they don't often start coming off as "Minnesota nice". With a bit of an assist from a puzzle historian, there's enough talk about various specific types and qualities of puzzles and what history there is of events like this to give curious viewers a little more detail on something they likely take for granted, and the actual scenes of the teams practicing and competing gives an amusing look at how serious puzzlers go about it, from choosing a smooth table to sorting pieces to lifting a completed section to put it in place.

Elliott puts it all together quite ably, deserving kudos for not trying to stretch the picture to what some might consider a minimum feature length or cut it back to the 40-minute "long short" mark (then again, this probably is the sweet spot for PBS). It's shoot and edited clearly, not going for excessive stylization or ironic juxtapositions that might mock her subjects. It's a simple movie, but one that gets what it's going for across.

I think there's a couple of pieces missing from my puzzle, and that may be the better metaphor for "Wicker Kittens": It still looks good, and you can see the image it's looking to get across, but there is a little bit missing, especially if you like these movies to be surprisingly exciting as well as cute.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=26348&reviewer=371
originally posted: 05/13/14 22:10:13
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 SXSW Film Festival For more in the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Independent Film Festival Boston For more in the 2014 Independent Film Festival Boston series, click here.

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