Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bellflower (2011)

Dir. Evan Glodell

2.5 out of 5

Bellflower, the only film I know of that beings with an epigraph from The Road Warrior, is a curiously homegrown creation of great mystery, great ambition, and great disappointment. It's something ramshackle and hideous and alive, and it doesn't get that way for a good forty-five minutes into the film. In extended preamble, it's a lo-fi indie romance about shy tinkerer Woodrow (Evan Glodell, who also wrote, directed, and custom-built the cameras that were used to shoot the film) and his doomed fixation on the hard-nosed, free-spirited Milly (Jessie Wiseman). Theirs is not a classic courtship. They meet in a lusciously-filmed cricket eating contest. Soon enough Glodell indirectly asks Wiseman to be his girlfriend. She is less than enthused, claiming that she'll hurt Glodell, who moons over her anyway. I'll admit that this is a groan-enducer. But it becomes very important. You can't say she didn't warn him.

Glodell also happens to be obsessed with custom-built machines of great violence and little practicality. He and best friend Aiden (Tyler Dawson) pine for the post-apocalyptic wasteland suggested by George Miller's Mad Max trilogy, specifically the fearsome Lord Humungus, leader of a marauding gang of auto pirates who rumble across the country in modified combat-ready muscle cars and motorbikes. This is their inspiration for 'Mother Medusa' - their own flame-spewing renegade ride. They are convinced the world is creeping ever closer to indulging the prophecies embedded in 1980s Australian sci-fi cinema. As you might expect, they are not the most well-adjusted of men, and woefully unequipped to handle real-life disaster.

Bellflower takes a while to get going, then becomes enamored with a near-constant distortion of the movie's timeline. The non-linear portions are the most noteworthy, but also the most irritating, as if Glodell can't do a good enough patch job to cover for the large swaths of less interesting narrative. What is fascinating is how Bellflower uses its temporal distortion and suspension of logic to suggest Glodell's long, steep slide into a personal Hell. The apocalypse has come to him at last, just in the form of problems that can't all be solved with flamethrowers. Not that Glodell doesn't try. Unfortunately, he only succeeds in proving correct that old axiom about fighting fire with fire.

A few more things to note. First, the disjointed structure makes Bellflower seem twice as long as it actually is. This doesn't affect the movie in any perceptible way, except to recommend that you don't watch it at the end of an especially long and taxing day. Second, alcohol (and by extension, alcoholism) is a primary yet largely ignored agent in the film. Glodell and Dawson imbibe spirits the way others do caffeine. This could be very revealing in terms of character and intent, or it could mean that the actors like to get a good buzz going. Third, Dawson emerges as the mostly unsung hero of the film. While Glodell broods and rages and gets in all kinds of stupid trouble, Dawson gets shit done. He is the only one doing anything to combat the moral decay and death wish of his fellow castmates, yet I'm not sure if this is what Bellflower intends for us to see in him. In one breath, he encourages the gradual awakening of Glodell's adult self. In the next, he still seems pretty serious about all this
Road Warrior stuff. Alas, Bellflower is never as arresting as when it turns, however sporadically, an accusatory eye at the ugliness that permeates its world. For a film with such Biblical overtures, it certainly loves the sinner yet is oddly reluctant to hate the sin.

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