SXSW 2013: ‘Prince Avalanche’ is a quiet film about rebirth set against a charred landscape

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Prince Avalanche
Directed by David Gordon Green
Written by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson  (original story), David Gordon Green (adapted screenplay)
US, 2013

The inception of this film does not so much start with a story but a location. Filmed in the ash ridden Bastrop, TX  after the late 2011 fires that devastated thousands of homes, Prince Avalanche observes two men as they repaint a lonely, rural road. As a remake of the Icelandic film Á annan veg (2011), the film follows the strict and humorless Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch) who is brash and self centered. The dichotomy between the two is both a source of conflict as well as, ironically, a way to common ground.

Much like the rest of the film, the opening is quiet as the two rise to work in the silent Texas dawn, working slowly but deliberately. As they continue to toil away throughout the summer of 1988, the two struggle both with the women in their lives as well as each other. Straight laced Alvin begins with a distaste for Lance, his girlfriend’s brother,  who he had to begrudgingly give a job to. The first half of the film meanders about, tracing the odd couple’s antics of the two as they work and bicker. The humor throughout the film is incredibly low key, relying on subtle humor and a bit of slapstick.

However, the film finds it’s emotional beat when Alvin stumbles across an unnamed woman played by actual Bastrop victim, Joyce Payne. In a brilliant and wrenching scene, the audience sees the connection between landscape and emotion. Location and context play a very important role in the shaping of people and their personalities. The two men spend most of the summer tracing lines day in and day out, losing count of the number. When sudden changes in both their relationships occur, the only people left in their lives is the other. Despite their differences, they engage in an alcoholic induced, cathartic break, and after, come to a better understanding not only of the other, but more importantly, of themselves.

The tragedy of Bastrop makes for a perfect thematic fit. The charred landscape and beating sun become a character in itself and a materialization of those themes. The film examines the futility of staying still and the incessant need for change. Although some forces of change can be chaotic in the case of the fires or unexpected as in Alvin’s troubles, a rebirth is something that is an entirely autonomous and liberating choice. Although people today are still picking up their lives, they are recover, not beaten or stunted, but definitively changed.

– David Tran

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