Updated: "Aftershool" -- opening TODAY at the Cinema Village, where I'll be hosting a Q&A with the director after the 7:20pm show -- was the cool, mystifying and brilliantly executed surprise of Cannes 2008. Antonio Campos' feature debut -- combining teen angst and Hanekean dread -- seemingly came out of nowhere, but by festival's end, many critics, from Howard Feinstein to J. Hoberman, cited the movie as a veritable discovery, convinced they had witnessed the work of a budding auteur.
(Producer Ted Hope has also signed on as an official supporter: He sent out an email to some hundred New York based directors to come out and give their support to the film, which he called the "strongest debut work to come out of NYC in a long, long time.")
After that first viewing in Cannes, I wrote: "Gus Van Sant‘s 'Elephant' and Atom Egoyan‘s voyeuristic visions come to mind, but Campos’s style remains unique: he frequently employs dislocating, fragmentary, or off-center frames - even a major kiss is barely seen, shoved to the bottom corner of the frame in favor of bobbing foreheads. And his thematic concerns are also his own: coming-of-age becomes a pathological condition and strange disconnected state, where the virtual worlds of violence and sex intermingle with the real."
Since Cannes, Campos has been struggling with getting his film out to an audience. With his high-art sensibility and global ambitions, it's no wonder he held out for some sort of theatrical release, albeit a limited one, before IFC funnels the film through its massive VOD pipeline. (Fortunately, the movie's title begins with an "A," which should help it find viewers on the cable company's alphabetically-listed menus).
But the film deserves the theatrical screen. Its juxtaposition of pristine wide-screen 35mm film with a prolific dose of pixilated video images, ranging from YouTube clips to DV-camera footage, absolutely needs a large screen to appreciate. As Campos told me for this Village Voice interview when the film played at last year's New York Film Festival, "I always knew I wanted the video to appear in center-frame, and that jump to anamorphic was important," says Campos—because, as a result, "the universe and scope of the film [becomes] bigger than just a high-school teen film."
Do check it out this weekend in the theater. Not only because it's a smart, disturbing and memorable movie, but it also presents a model for ultra-low-budget films that don't want to employ a grainy verite digital aesthetic, but aspire to glossy, cinematic celluloid images that recall the glory days of art cinema.