Joshua Reviews Evan Glodell’s Bellflower [SXSW 2011 Review]

There are truly hand made films, and then there are films like Bellflower.

Arguably one of the most original pieces of narrative filmmaking in quite some time, Bellflower is, at its very core, a film built by the hands of the film’s cast and crew, from the ground up.   Written, directed, and starring Evan Glodell, Bellflower sees the former cinematographer working on a level unseen by many young film directors.

Simply put, we may be witnessing the start of one hell of a promising feature filmmaking career.

A relatively simple premise, Bellflower follows two friends with a penchant for building things from scratch, as they try to prepare for a global apocalypse they believe will occur.   However, when one half of this dynamic duo falls for a beautiful and charismatic young girl, things change.   A story, at its soul, about love, the affirmation of masculinity, and the effect of a breakup on the mind, heart, and soul of each member, Bellflower is one of the most gorgeous, well acted, and all around beautiful films in quite some time.

Coming from the mind of Glodell, the Renaissance man is far and away this film’s star.

As an actor, he’s pitch perfect.    Taking on the role of the lovelorn Woodrow, he is a perfect combination of charismatic, charming, and subdued, making this a really well layered performance, one that is far more interesting than most members of cinematic relationships.   Playing his best friend, Aiden, is Tyler Dawson, who is equally as superb.   The outgoing best friend figure, Dawson is charming as all hell, and also gives a lot of heft to moments where his character must play the heart.   Simple looks on his face, particularly near the film’s conclusion, are absolutely heartbreaking, and paired with his great comedic timing and delivery, and you’ve got a really fantastic supporting performance.

The females in the film also hold their weight here.   The true star here is Jessie Wiseman as the charismatic, yet ultimately conflicted and troubled Milly, a girl simply looking to get away from the world.   Given a great deal of truth by Wiseman, the character is one that ultimately could have become a caricature, but absolutely thrives in this world crafted by Glodell.   Rebekah Brandes is equally great here as Courtney, and really shines when given the screen time, come the film’s second half.

However, it’s Glodell who truly steals the show in nearly every way possible.

Literally building the film from the ground up (from the car to the cameras used to shoot the film), Glodell ultimately gives this film an assured hand unlike anything we’ve seen from a relatively young filmmaker.   Having mostly DP work under his belt, Bellflower is a wonderfully striking film, making most of its original and homemade cameras, giving the film an aesthetic all its own.   Snap focuses, beautiful use of blur, and a color palette that would make anyone want to run home and take a shower, Bellflower is as gritty as they come, but in an equally poetic and lyrical way.

Actually, poetic is a perfect way to describe this thing.

An ode to masculinity and the affirmation of said ideal, Bellflower is also an interesting look at love, and just how damn hard we as humans fall for one another.   Not truly an apocalyptic film, within this world created here, the world as a human knows it is directly in relation to his or her romantic status.   When a relationship is great, the world is beautiful.   When the relationship tumbles, it becomes Mad Max style anarchy.   Combine this ideal with the concept of a call to arms for emasculated men, and you have a film that is far smarter than one would have expected.

That said, the film does have a few issues.

Ultimately a bit poorly paced, the film is also quite choppy, particularly when the film’s title cards come into play.   Each has a title or statement that hits the film’s themes and concepts a bit too hard on the nose, and are quite ham-fisted, but it’s the pacing that hits the film a bit too hard. The film does have an absolutely stunning soundtrack (including tracks from Ratatat and Lykke Li), but doesn’t quite save the film from a bit of shoddy plotting.   Again, a very minor quibble from this masterful film, but with the rather ‘out there’ premise and ultimate conclusion, the film may not be for everyone.

Overall however, Bellflower is a masterful piece of filmmaking from one of the most interesting up and coming filmmakers we have.   Featuring a powerful collection of performances, a beautiful score, a kick-ass soundtrack, and themes that will be just the right amount of food for any cinephile to chew on, Bellflower is one of the year’s best films, and oozes a sense of creativity like nothing we’ve seen in quite some time.   Not only this young year’s most original film, but it may in fact be its best.

 

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