The rounds of an insurance adjuster (John Ortiz) who values the artifacts of others provide an entry into a melancholy mosaic. Aching, modest, declarative, weaving memory through images and objects and the making and keeping of images, Mark Pellington’s fugue-like miniature, from a script he commissioned for a two-week-wonder production from Alex Ross Perry (“Queen of Earth,” “Golden Exits”), is precious and small, yet precise and dreamlike in suggestive imagery. In “Confessions of an Image Addict,” an essay published at Talkhouse in mid-February, Pellington ranged across his means of production and touches on a sensitive subject in much criticism of movies that deal in pictures and sound to convey meaning and sensation as much as text and psychological representation, especially in a loosely gathered format like this one: “Films require many people, sometimes hundreds, but very rarely less than fifteen. Whenever possible, I shoot with a skeleton crew, which I did on my new film ‘Nostalgia’ and another picture, ‘I Melt With You,’ which had a crew of around twenty. This is my favorite because there are far fewer impediments between brain and image. There aren’t as many people to explain it to, the script is personal and generated by me, we are telling a story with a structure borne from my mind, and the plot is secondary to the emotion, theme and image.” Pellington’s greatest strengths, indeed, are in capturing images, whether of content or composition, within a scene that is otherwise banal. “It is difficult for my primary focus to be servicing plot and story, and it is often an expensive, time-consuming process, truly akin to building a house or a ship. You are less an artist than a captain, the head of a huge engineered assemblage of craftsmen and actors all creating, piece by piece, something borne of a technical blueprint. Afterward, it is edited, mixed, polished, cleaned up, effects added. It loses some spiritual quality.” “Nostalgia” very much reflects what Pellington describes here—a story about money and accumulation and memory and family, on the shoulders of a cast that includes Jon Hamm, Bruce Dern, Ellen Burstyn, Amber Tamblyn, Nick Offerman, Catherine Keener, Patton Oswalt and James LeGros. Pellington cannily drew on Perry’s moments of greatest unabashed emotion, as well as his fascination with representation and projection by his family-torn characters. The character of a teenage girl fixes on saudade, the famously disconsolate yet untranslatable Portuguese word, and the silently shifting tectonics between characters in “Nostalgia” as also slippery of mood yet riven with emotion. Laurent Eyquem’s score literally rests on the pluck of strings, if not heartstrings, as well as piano, plangent, forward, carrying the sound of its making as much as its music. 114m. (Ray Pride)
“Nostalgia” opens Friday, February 23 at River East and Landmark Century.
Ray Pride is Newcity film critic and a contributing editor of Filmmaker magazine. He is also a photographer: his history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images is forthcoming. Previews on Twitter (twitter.com/chighostsigns) as well as daily photography on Instagram: instagram.com/raypride. Twitter: twitter.com/RayPride. (Photo: Jorge Colombo.)