zelle, US, 2009,
Digibeta, 82 mins.)
"No movie I've seen this year has given me more joy."
-- J. Hoberman, The Village Voice
During the short film-like opening credits to Damien Chazelle's jazz mu-
sical, Guy (musician Jason Palmer) and Madeline (film professor Desiree
Garcia) appear to break up. As the credits end, Madeline sits alone on
a park bench, but Chazelle's film actually begins some time after that.
The 25-year-old Harvard graduate shot his debut in 16mm B&W and es-
chews expository dialogue, so I didn't realize at first that the story unfolds primarily in Boston--it looks nothing like the city in The Town--but it's clear that Madeline sings and that Guy plays the trumpet (Filmmaker Maga-
zine coined the term "mumblemusical," which isn't too far off the mark).
Springing organically from the slender narrative, the music sequences occur in clubs, public squares, and restaurants. In one bit, the wait staff joins Madeline in a tap routine (there's also tapping at a house party).
Chazelle captures the duo as they lead their separate, but parallel liv-
es: goofing around with friends, fending off street vendors, and getting hit
on by sad strangers. A recent MFA graduate, Madeline rents a room, gets
a job, and dates an older man (played by the director's father, Bernard),
while Guy hangs out with his girlfriend, Elena (Sandha Khin). Though
the characters run in the same circles, they keep missing each other.
Chazelle is patient and attentive. When he isn't filming Guy and Made-
line from the back, he's moving in for close-ups. Consequently, I was
bored for the first half-hour, but the scenario grows more absorbing on-
ce the protagonists register as distinct individuals. It doesn't hurt that
they're so interesting-looking: Guy has delicate features (he appears
to be of Caribbean descent), while Madeline has full lips and a gap be-
tween her teeth (features that have done Béatrice Dalle no harm).
So, they don't re-connect until the end, except Chazelle doesn't indicate
whether they're getting together to say one last goodbye or starting all
over again. Instead of a duet, then, the film consists of a series of solos.
Though I was initially skeptical of the Godard and Cassavetes compari-
sons, it does recall Band of Outsiders and Shadows at times, especially when Madeline dances around the diner. By the conclusion, the movie
had won me over. Most impressive: the classic-sounding original songs.
Guy and Madeline on a Park
Bench continues at the Northwest
Film Forum through 1/13 at 7 and
9pm. The NWFF is located at 1515
12th Ave. between Pike and Pine
on Capitol Hill. For more infor-
mation, please click here. Im-
ages from Variance Films.