Sara Driver’s first feature–a luminous, oddball comic fantasy about ancient Chinese curses and Xerox machines, set in Manhattan’s Chinatown and its immediate environs–may well be the most visually ravishing American independent film of its year (1986). Set in an irrational, poetic universe that bears a certain relationship to Jacques Rivette’s Duelle, this dreamy intrigue breaks a cardinal rule of fantasy by striking off in a number of directions: an executive barks in the street, a young Frenchwoman (Ann Magnuson) loses her hair, and machines in a copy shop start to purr and wheeze on their own initiative.The moods that are established are delicate, and not everyone will be able to go with them, but Driver, the producer of Stranger Than Paradise, sustains them with beauty and eccentric charm. Suzanne Fletcher, who also starred in Driver’s previous 50-minute You Are Not I, makes a compelling (if unconventional) heroine, and Lorenzo Mans’s screwball dialogue develops some engaging hallucinatory riffs.
While we can readily speak about the surrealist “worlds” of a Buñuel, a Lynch, or even an Akerman (at least if we think of Belgian surrealism), the three films of Driver, even if we can easily call them all surrealist as well as “Driveresque,” clearly take place in three distinctly different worlds. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t various stylistic, thematic, and temperamental connections between them going well beyond the recurrence of various collaborators. Think of the dense and hyperactive soundtracks of all three, the downscale milieus, the trancelike rhythms, the layered relation of distant past to present (bringing to mind the fact that Driver spent her junior year in college abroad, studying archeology in Athens), the depictions of bullying power-mongers and solitary children, the dreamy passivity of seemingly hapless protagonists and the prominent attention given to their dreams, and chaotic eruptions of various kinds occurring in the midst of their compulsive routines, leading to the major plot developments in all three cases.
Perhaps an even more singular common trait in You Are Not I (1982), Sleepwalk (1986), and When Pigs Fly (1993) is the simultaneous urge to follow characters conceived in unabashed fantasy terms … while charting their various interrelations with the world and each other with a great deal of plausibility. Put another way, she knows how to get the poetic and the prosaic, the supernatural and the mundane, to rub shoulders with one another.
…You Are Not I …registers unapologetically like an art film, and so, in a very different way, does Sleepwalk (this time working closer to Jacques Rivette than to a Georges Franju, integrating choreography rather than literary narration into the mise en scène).
… even though Sleepwalk is set in its entirety in the neighborhood of lower Manhattan where Driver lives, the film belongs more to the free-wheeling trappings of what the French call “fantastique”–which includes surrealism without being limited to it–than to any particular national or ethnic tradition. Could this be because the Bowery is itself a cultural melting pot, like much of New York? Significantly, the Chinese text being translated by the heroine derives from four separate fairy tales: one Chinese, one African, one by the Brothers Grimm, and one made up by Driver herself.
1.14GB | 1h 14mn | 851×460 | mkv