Directed by: Scott Cohen
Written by: Scott Cohen
Starring: Olivia Thirlby, Vincent Kartheiser, Billy Campbell
A peaceful marvel of a drama studying an unraveling marriage on the brink of fading before it even started, Scott Cohen’s Red Knot sets in motion stifling inner conflicts against a beautiful backdrop of Antarctic landscape. Olivia Thirlby and Vincent Kartheiser star in the picture that took home the Fipresci Grand Jury prize at the Seattle International Film Festival. Stunning and grand in scope, the film may be too simplified for big multiplexes yet demand the respect of art houses. Absolutely dazzling to look at, the derailing love story of Peter and Chloe is overshadowed by the impression set forth by the Antarctic. Surely in the wheelhouse of the art photographer, Red Knot will be remembered purely for its cinematography. Like pulling over the side of the road and soaking in a beautiful sight, the road trip itself is unadorned by the landscape it surrounds.
Kartheiser plays Peter, a writer consumed by polar expeditions, who is given the chance to join an Antarctic journey and takes his new wife, Chloe (Thirlby), along. Scenes onboard the ship, where we occasionally spot passengers like author Cormac McCarthy, capture the intellectual nature of the real sea journey, of which one can only imagine the free range group of thinkers found in Daniel Dencik’s documentary and inspiration Expedition to the End of the World. The impromptu meetings and casual gatherings with marine biologists and explorers excite Peter, but does so to a level that isolates his bride completely.
As tension grows between the two, jealousy plagues Peter that can only weight their marriage down amongst their close quarters. This is the reason Chloe decides, mid-voyage, to move out of the couple’s cabin and finish the trip separated as if the newlyweds were already divorced. Cohen makes wise cinematic use of narrow doorways and tight passages to capture the emotion wreckage of being tied to someone, while being trapped in a close space with them. It also signals Chloe’s growing connection with the ship’s captain (Billy Campbell), given the nature that both have no other place to go then to be with each other.
As the film progresses, the couple is seen more as an estranged husband and wife, becoming rather disinterested in one another’s activities. Little dialogue is heard, yet facial expressions of discontent speak volumes. Although the couple continues to isolate themselves from each other, it’s easy to judge and make the case that Peter is a man too intrigued in his own affairs to really engage and let another person into his world. Unlike his character from Mad Men, Kartheiser plays a more considerate and sensitive person, adding a light touch of affection to his short list of filmography.
Given Cohen’s background in photography, it’s quite expected that he and Director of Photography, Michael Simmonds, make the best of landscapes and seascapes whose beauty suppresses the human plot of the film. Grassy scenery with passengers on shore and howling winds blowing locks of beach grass creates an unmasked depth to Antarctica’s ecosystem that can only be discovered as breath taking and marveling. Garth Stevenson’s deeply baritone-driven score heightens the grandeur of the quest over its broken love story. Although the love story of Peter and Chloe is lacking in many facets, it’s hard not to fall in love with Cohen’s acute attention to detail for capturing the majestic tundra’s grace.
– Christopher Clemente