Bellflower (2011)

I first found out about this film thanks to Roger Ebert’s “At The Movies” TV show. It looked beautiful and interesting, so I immediately forgot about it for ages, until I saw it for rental a few days ago. If you’re interested in using my words for a future DVD box of this (remind me that I’ve sold out, if that ever happens), then “beautiful and interesting” is a pretty good summation of it all.

But you don’t come here for one paragraph reviews! Basically, this film is almost entirely the work of Evan Glodell, who wrote, directed, edited and starred in this film; he plays Woodrow, who along with his friend Aiden, share a childhood obsession with Mad Max that’s led them to create a bunch of post-apocalyptic weaponry, including most memorably a flame-thrower. Aside from this passion, they’re a couple of drinkin’, druggin’ slackers, and the early portion of the film gives a strong indication it’s going to be a comedy about these two misfits and their attempts to find love.

Woodrow and Aiden are fish out of water in LA, having moved from Wisconsin, and live in scummy apartments (although they have no jobs, they’re able to afford to build these awesome gadgets and go to bars all the time). Woodrow takes part in a cricket-eating contest with Milly, and their two social circles become entwined. However, the film starts taking a darker turn quite early on, as Woodrow goes, kind-of on a whim, with Milly to Texas (the film’s largely based in the flat, working-class suburbs of Los Angeles), and an asshole local grabs her butt. It’s an indicator of what’s to come, in more ways than one.

I think, the most important thing about this film is the visual style. It looks amazing, shot by a one-of-a-kind handmade camera – the colours seem amazingly over-saturated at times, and like a 1970s-shot home movie at others. For the cost of making it (reportedly $17,000, but I’d lay good money on that not including a lot of deferred salaries) it’s even more amazing, and I think even if he never makes another film, Glodell (along with cinematographer Joel Hodge) could have a career in helping other indie filmmakers.

The resolution of the film is a little more problematic. I paused it at what I thought was about the ten-minutes-to-go stage in order to make myself a cup of coffee, and I discovered that the film was only just half over – they packed a lot of incident into that first half, while still keeping that beautiful dreamlike look and style. Without spoilering it, relationships come and go, and while I can appreciate the non-linear aspects of the second half of the film (most of the first half is fairly straightly told), by the end I still felt a bit cheated by the lack of certain elements. I don’t think it earned its turn into darkness, or its ending(s).

Also, the acting is pretty much what you’d expect from a film which cost so little. Woodrow and Aiden are about tolerable, but the two main women in the film are, without putting too fine a point on it, awful. They’re not treated wonderfully by the film, either – I can’t tell if that’s just how relationships among that particular social milieu go, or if the filmmaker was a bit of a misogynist, and he just expected women to put up with him sitting around drinking cheap beer, watching TV, and paying no attention to them.

I think it’s absolutely worth watching, though. As well as being visually unique, it also has a bit more of a plot than your average micro-budget 21st century indie film. The structural tricks it plays means it’s worth watching too, just to try and puzzle it out (I think I’ll pop it in again soon, and see if I like it more the second time).

I feel like there’s a key that I don’t have that unlocks layers of meaning in this film. The fact that the film made me think that is in its favour, even if it was just a load of navel-gazing about hipsters building a Mad Max car because they didn’t have anything better to do in LA. So, to sum up, I’ll give it a hearty “okay…I guess?”

Bellflower on IMDB
Buy Bellflower (Uncut)

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