19 September 2015 | EdgarST
Very Good First Work
Ryan Gosling wrote and directed a fine first film, a tale about ordinary people surrounded by myth and decay, in an almost abandoned town in Michigan. However, the movie was submitted to the wrong film festival: you know, Cannes means tough competition and the French can be haughty. With the tone of an apocalyptic fable, «Lost River» would have been more appreciated in specialized events, as the fantasy film festivals celebrated in Porto, Neuchâtel, Brussels, Sitges, Málaga, Amsterdam, Gérardmer, Puchon, Austin or Buenos Aires. «Lost River» strongly belongs in those festivals and it could have been awarded with several prizes: first work by a new director, for its cinematography, screenplay, or for a couple of good performances. Handled by Warner Brothers, the company did not know what to do with this beautiful motion picture, so it considered "selling the distribution rights to another company" and finally decided to limit its exposure to on- demand exhibitions. Or simply put: it just decided to kill it. «Lost River» belongs to a special lineage of American films that portrait people and places of the United States that are often ignored or mistreated in mainstream cinema by filmmakers without any compassion or understanding of their situation: see how Alan Parker portrayed poverty in Mississippi, with a "chic touch" in the deplorable «Angel Heart». I refer to a lineage as old as King Vidor's «Street Scene», to Robert Altman's «Thieves Like Us», David Lynch's «Blue Velvet», Michael Moore's «Roger & Me», and many other independent films that came to my mind, as Harmony Korine's «Gummo», Jeff Nichols' «Mud», Daniel Patrick Carbone's «Hide Your Smiling Faces» and Kat Candler's «Hellion». As an individual of these times, Gosling was audio-visually "trained" from watching television and films since childhood, so he wrote a fragmented script, but it does have a linear Aristotelian plot with well- defined three acts, precise plot points, a satisfying resolution and well-structured characters (some are fascinanting). In the story, a single mother (Christina Hendricks) tries to keep her childhood home and her little family together (she and her two sons) in the dying town of Lost River. To do so she accepts a job offer from a bank manager (Ben Mendelsohn) in a night club literally from hell, where the main attraction (Eva Mendes) dances to "Moliendo café" as sung by Lucho Gatica, to be suddenly beaten and killed by a hoodlum, and her blood spreaded on the audience, all as part of the show. In this way the mother enters a sordid and morbid sector of society (imagine that all clients are Dennis Hoppers from «Blue Velvet» times 50, plus the naked and masked bourgeoisie of «Eyes Wide Shut»). Simultaneously her adolescent son (Iain de Caestecker) tries to help her by extracting and selling pieces of copper found in derelict buildings, which are claimed by a psychopath (Matt Smith) who controls what is left of Lost River. As he runs from the guy, the boy incidentally discovers a submerged town in a lake. His girlfriend neighbor (Saoirse Ronan) tells him that her grandmother (Barbara Steele) --who decided to remain silent when her husband died-- has predicted that the day someone brings up to the surface a fragment of anything belonging to the lost town, Lost River will be freed from a curse. Although what is being told is very violent in spirit (and overtly so in a few scenes), Gosling moved his story with a smooth and gentle pace, unfolding the tale in a calm manner, rarely unaltered, which brings me to my only objection, a factor that did alter this tone of serenity: the music score by Johnny Jewel. Not because it is bad music, but for being unnecessary in most of the cases. This is not only a problem in Gosling's film, but in almost all movies, especially in American productions. Filmmakers seem to mistrust the power of the images they create and allow composers, editors and sound crew to overemphasize what is obvious. Besides Jewel's cues are too short and have a spasmodic effect: they accentuate a phrase, an expression, an action, and then fade until the next reaction. But fortunately the film transcends this limitation. As you watch «Lost River», it is true that you may remember one or two works from Lynch or Nicolas Winding Refn, but I do not see the point of making a fuss about this, when all filmmakers, from Woody Allen to Brian De Palma, show their influences and no one complains. They are even exalted because of copying Ingmar Bergman or Alfred Hitchcock. This said, as a whole «Lost River» is a satisfying motion picture, with good performances by all: even Barbara Steele in her silent role is remarkable. Forget what some say about this movie and watch it. You will like it.