Festival du Nouveau Cinema ’12: ‘Uncontrollable’ teases the viewer with potential but ends up a bore

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Uncontrollable

Directed by Eugene Garcia

Written by Eugene Garcia

Canada, 2012

It can’t be very easy working in Canadian film, an industry whose unfortunate stagnation has prevented it from reaching the heights of audience-wide and even critical recognition many of its ardent defenders would love to see it earn. Be it of the commercial or art house variety, Canadian film, notwithstanding the obvious exceptions (David Cronenberg, his son Brendan, Sarah Polley), simply does not glow as brightly as it could. Montrealer and staunchly independent minded filmmaker Eugene Garcia, understood to be something of a regular at the Festival du Nouveau Cinema, brings his latest to the festival, Uncontrollable, offering any curious viewers a look inside the quirky world of a desperate writer finding inspiration in a man whose fate is just as desperate if not more so.

Daniel Delgao (played by the director himself, Eugene Garcia) is in a rough spot in his life. His wife has left him and certain rather uncomfortable personal matters have pushed the administration at his school where he teaches Enligsh literature to fire him. Now left without a family or a purpose, Daniel opts to travel the province of Quebec for some time until he strikes up the idea to write a book. The genesis of his new project is a condemned man, Richard (frequent collaborator Romano Orzari), who, for reasons he himself has trouble articulating, murdered a young woman not too long ago and is currently serving the due prison sentence. Yet it is that very same difficulty with which Richard shares his tale of broken emotions, errant behaviour and lust that fascinates Daniel, who even goes as far as to write himself into the plot as Richard’s friend. From that point, film essentially evolves as a dual-layered story of Richard’s unorthodox adventure and Daniel’s intent on wrapping his head around it obsessively.

Uncontrollable is the sort of film one leaves thinking that there are unquestionably some pertinent ideas floating about in the narrative, ideas that deserve a place in film to be explored and questioned, yet in the end the final product feels like a letdown. There are obvious positives battling frustrating negatives almost throughout the entire movie, which makes for a discomforting experience if mostly because the positives signs are a collection of hints that Uncontrollable could have been an intriguing, quirky little indie film about some very specifically written characters wrestling with rather unusual predicaments.  In actuality, Garcia’s film is a bore to sit through, almost deliberately refusing to be entirely engaging with the audiences. Filmmakers challenging the audience, especially in the day and age of oversimplified, instant gratification entertainment, is all fair and good, although  a costly juggling act if the balance is disrupted in favour of alienation.

In similar vein to a well received mainstream film which sees its release this very weekend, Seven Psychopaths, director Garcia inserts himself into his own film, in this case by playing the narrator and also as a supporting player in the ‘story within a story.’ Additionally, the character he plays has a wife who has left him and, to top it off, he is struggling to get through a writing project and is using ideas coming from a killer. That is where all similarities end, as Uncontrollable, from the very first frame, is a an experimental film more than anything else, whereas Seven Psychopaths, while presenting a multi-layered plot, aims very much at entertaining first and foremost. Oftentimes experimental films are made for modest budgest, frequently insignificant budgets, and it is quite apparent that Uncontrollable falls into the latter category. Not that that should normally be a reason to criticize a film (it does seem unfair upon first glance, admittedly), but when it affects the viewing experience as much as was the case during Garcia’s film, it must be called out for. The resolution of the picture is so low, that background objects have a distractingly blurry look about them, like watching a very, very old film on a DVD from  the late 90s before even standard DVDs become a stellar product. Filmmakers certainly deserve credit when accomplishing a project, but a distraction is still a distraction and in this case detracts from the overall viewing experience.

Yet the aesthetic faults are but a surface level complaint. the story itself is an interestingly layered affair. There is Eugene Garcia’s character trying to take back control of his life after some disappointing personal matters just as he is trying to take control over his subject’s story by inserting himself into it. That is juxtaposed by the very story the subject Richard is sharing, in which he gives himself the special mission of handing Amber (Stéphanie Eliapoulos), a hooker, a better life after killing her twin sister. Romano Orzari is actually quite good in the role of a man who seems lost, not only because bad things are happening to him but equally because he is committing bad acts for reasons that appear to be beyond his own reasoning capabilities. Is he slightly mad? Perhaps, although the film never explores that potentiality in any great depth.

The issue is much more the pacing of these scenes as well as the performance of first time actress Stephanie Eliapoulos. The film moves along at a snail’s pace, with the energy level dial at the lowest point possible, which is completely at odds with Richard’s story, which should have some emotional intensity about it. The worst moments are with the aforementioned  Eliapoulos, who definitely shows signs that she is a first time actress. Both of the characters she portrays, first the murder victim and subsequently the sister who wants to escape her job as a hooker, are distant individuals. Try as Richard might, it is painfully difficult to establish a connection with her. That, however, cannot excuse a performance as dry and wooden as that given by Eliapoulos.  A good actor is able to convey depression and emotional numbness is an interesting way. Sadly, that is not what we get at all with Eliapoulos, as her scenes indeed feel numb, although in the worst possible way.

Ultimately, the narrative, which admittedly is nonlinear in the traditional sense given that this is an at house endeavour, rarely feels important enough for the viewer to care. The story within a story angle is fine, although nothing new, but the heart of the film is buried so far beneath the standoff-ish performances and pitiful visuals that it becomes very difficult to see how it could earn a recommendation. True enough, this is not the sort of film that will receive any sort wide theatrical or home video release, prompting one to wonder if that is not for the best after all.

-Edgar Chaput

Festival Du Nouveau Cinema runs Oct. 1st – 21st in Montreal. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, please visit their official site.

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