Noah J Nelson on Monday, Jun. 18th
Sometimes while attending a film festival, one has to reset the expectations meter. A filmmaker friend once cyncially said to me that festival movies are not films but “tries”. I don’t totally hold with that assesment, but it was a line that came back to me as I watched David Fenster’s Pincus, a new American independant film that made it’s debut at the LA Film Festival.
I’ll hold off on breaking out the knives for a second and fall back into my college tradition of talking about what works before getting hypercritical but spoiler alert if you just want a consumer reccomnedation: this is the kind of movie worth seeing only if you are into tracking emerging talent. Fenster has some good instincts that need honing, but Pincus isn’t something I’d tell my casual film friends to go see.
Pincus is a portrait of a lost soul coping with mortality in the form of his father’s full blown Parkison’s disease. Pincus Finster (David Nordstrom) is the son of a building contractor who is barely keeping the family business together with the help of his side-kick, a homeless, who-knows-how-many-substance addicted German named Dietmar (the late non-actor, Dietmar Franosch, playing himself apparently). Pincus lets Dietmar sleep on the job sites, while Pincus lives at home trying to take care of his father Paul (Paul Fenster, the filmmaker’s actual father).
Early on in the film Pincus catches sight of Anna (Christi Idavoy) an attractive yoga instructor, and this seems to kick start his exploration of alternative thearapies for his dad, which may or may not be just a thinly veiled attempt to sleep with Anna. Emphasis on the “just”, becasue it’s pretty clear that’s a big part of it.
The actors are game and the film’s setting of suburban Miami and bits and pieces of the Everglades provide interesting fodder to look at. Pincus never suffers from moment to moment pacing, and the elder Fenster is a compelling on screen presence beyond the circumstances of his disease. The film’s best moments are culled from a discarded documentary the filmmaker began about his father’s condition.
What the film lacks is a willingness to look at it’s subject matter dead on. Perhaps Fenster, by trying to salvage material he was gathering for the documentary, found it too difficult. Who knows if I would have even had the stomach to turn a camera on in his shoe, let alone gather some of the meditative material he does from the conversations he had with his dad, which he recuts to place Nordstrom into the scene.
While I applaud Fenster’s courage for starting this dialog, at issue is that the film doesn’t really take the questions it raises– about mortality, spirtuality, and living up to the family name– anywhere. They just hang there. Yup. They’re there. Sure are.
Nor does the film have a visual style of it’s own. This is pretty squarely in the current “indie” style of hand-held camerawork in availible light. From a design perspective the one place that stands out is John Clement Wood’s work with the music, but the dialog mix as presented at LA Live over the weekend seemed rather bassy, to the precipice of distortion.
This is intensly personal material for Fenster, and perhaps that is where the problem lay. Deep in the thick of loss, it can be difficult to gain perspective. Difficult to stare unflinchinly into the abyss. There is a moment in the film where we get a glimpse of the condition of the elder Fenster’s feet, which are in poor shape. That’s an understatement, they bear the legend of years of hard work and the betrayal of the flesh that can come at the end of life. They are at the edge of the frame, and I found myself wanting for the camera to look at them. Really look and force us to not look away. To put us in the perspective of Pincus, who is confronted with the need to maintain his father’s failing body.
Yet Pincus– both the film and the character– seem unwilling to face the grit of mortality head on. That’s the kind of courage we need from our indie filmmakers, a capacity that Fenster may yet possess, but does not find here.
Pincus, a film by David Fenster, screens as part of the Los Angeles Film Festival again on Thursday the 21st.