New on VOD this month are two films by directors at the opposite end of their career spectrums: Amy Seimetz, the promising and supremely talented newbie director of "Sun Don't Shine," and Olivier Assayas, a seasoned auteur at the height of his powers in the early-70s-set French political drama "Something in the Air."
"Sun Don't Shine" (now on Fandor) owes stylistic and thematic debts to old school Terrence Malick and John Cassavetes. But it shares more explicit similarities with another debut by a female filmmaker, Kelly Reichardt's "River of Grass" from 1994, also a Florida-set, 16mm-shot road movie concerning misanthropic lovers on the lam, and a woman running from an ineffable past. They are alike in tone and texture, and hopefully Seimetz's film, an obvious homage, portends the same kind of talent. (Check out our insightful TOH! video interview with Seimetz here, in which she describes making a movie "based on pure anxiety and emotion.")
Mumblecore starlet Kate Lyn Sheil, who has acted for Alex Ross Perry and Joe Swanberg among others, gives an intense performance utterly free of vanity as the sexually scarred and possessive Crystal, a broken young woman fleeing her troubles and dragging boyfriend Leo (Kentucker Audley, sleazy-sexy) down with her.
What follows is a psychosexual travelogue of mud, sweat and tears. Seimetz smartly uses the 16 mm medium to capture the tactile qualities of desire, longing and emotional battery.
Unlike "River of Grass," "Sun Don't Shine" plays like a noir thriller, with ominous breadcrumbs and clues spread throughout a dark-hearted tale of hard-to-read antiheroes drifting through a sad, beige world. At every twist, turn and highway exit, and even when she's sleeping, Crystal, brittle and haunted but also strong, has one eye open and over her shoulder. And she has a child out there somewhere.
Jagged and dangerous, "Sun Don't Shine" is an arty potboiler and -- though writer/director Seimetz has seen "Badlands" too many times with all that disjointed editing and those murmuring voiceovers -- a film of real feelings and ideas. Seimetz commits to reaching the soul-bottom of her protagonists and their acid passion, however ragged and ugly that bottom may be.
Also streaming is another film about rakish, meandering youths, but one no less, experimental, ambitious or fearless: Olivier Assayas' "Something in the Air" (Netflix), the most damning yet affectionate a portrait of dissolute, beautiful young people this side of Robert Bresson (see: "The Devil Probably"). Though "Something" is about a time and place of political unrest, Assayas cares more about crafting specific characters of flesh and blood than about making an overtly political film in which the people are stand-ins for a broader message.
While Crystal in "Sun Don't Shine" probably doesn't care about politics, the pretty teens of "Something in the Air" care too much and they don't know where to put that care. It's 1971 in Paris, after the fallout of '68. Georges Pompidou is president but France is still recovering from de Gaulle's prime ministry, a time when student demonstrations and grassroots rebellion were de rigueur, and tear gas was thrown like confetti at a generation of articulate, overly educated young people. In other words, rebels looking for a cause.
"Something in the Air," which debuted at Venice 2012, takes some very French cinematic tropes – smoking like you're life depends on it, riding aimlessly on motorcycles, having vacant, no-strings sex and hardly-romantic encounters – and grounds them in a delicate, melancholy film about anarchy and political radicalism. A.O. Scott called it "an attempt to make a film about the past in the present tense."
The film boasts two excellent central performances by Clement Metayer and Lola Creton as the profligate outlaw poets who lead a quixotic pack of graffiti-making, Communist literature-reading "cultural revolutionaries" who are roughly high school age and in over their heads. Raw scenes of chaos en masse, as French police beat the living hell out of strikers run amuck, almost resemble something out of dystopian science fiction.
Further viewing: Check out Assayas' previous film, the lovely "Summer Hours" with Juliette Binoche, and Seimetz's acting chops in TV's "The Killing" and Shane Carruth's "Upstream Color."