Today's independent films maintain the tradition of keeping production small and outside of major studios, but with grassroots funding and the rise of affordability in digital filmmaking, gone are the low-budget demands and aesthetics forced upon the genre. Notable recent releases indicate a new normal for the independent category, one marked by gorgeous cinematography, disconnected narratives and an emphasis on human relationships. An ideal marriage of high-quality pictures with thoughtful, artistically-driven scripts, the indie film is more attractive than ever. Here are three must-sees from the many we've viewed recently.
Director Shane Carruth's follow-up to the 2004 film "Primer" shares elements with its debut predecessor. Both films were shot in a real-time, realistic way that manages to incorporate inventiveness and science fiction elements. Aesthetically, there's not much room for criticism of Carruth's lens or of his score for that matter—a stunning work that is available to stream on SoundCloud. Blurring fact and fiction, "Upstream Color" wins in capturing contemporary moods and feelings. With a plot that involves psychotropic worms, pig farmers and alternate realities, Carruth isn't scared to leave his audience out of the loop. That said, for every moment of confusion, the director provides scenes of unassailable feeling and beauty. Growing up from his mumblecore roots, Carruth enters daringly into the higher budget indie genre—setting a standard for other directors of his class.
To the Wonder
Style-over-substance criticisms aside, Terrence Malick has developed a method for joining macro and micro themes that is completely original. In "To the Wonder," the director returns to creation myths by juxtaposing the formation of family and nation. The film eschews the nuclear family, monogamous notions of love and the linear "coming to America" story, favoring instead a postmodern idea of creation that results in multiplicity and non-linear progression. In spite of thematic and visual grandeur, the sleepy and loosely-connected film is prone to derail its own narrative. Like "Upstream Color," solid cinematography and genuine relationships between characters—not to mention Javier Bardem's stellar performance—save the film in the end.
In the House
François Ozon directs the French-language film "In the House" (French, "Dans la maison"), a piece that takes an extreme and novel look at voyeurism. Following the character of a young boy who infiltrates the home of a friend, the film follows his evolution from spectator to participant and eventually creator. With the possible exception of the curious young boy, malaise and disinterest dominate the cast of characters from the unhappy housewife to her adolescent children. While cut in a series of disparate scenes, the movie is essentially about storytelling and manages to come together in the end for a powerful final scene.
With contributions by Ami Kealoha, Greg Stefano and Joel Niedfeldt