SXSW Review: YEAST

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, USA (@peteramartin)
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SXSW Review: YEAST

Yeast is the feel-good movie of the year. No matter how miserable your life may be, you'll feel better off after seeing Mary Bronstein's chaotic debut.

That's because she focuses intensely, nay, claustrophobically, upon three aggressively unlikable women who are driving each other crazy. Rachel (director Bronstein) shares her tiny studio apartment with Brunette. (I failed to write down the character's name, but she's played by Amy Judd). The film begins as Rachel screams at Brunette to get up, finally trying to drag her up by the hair. Brunette yells back that she doesn't want to go, leave me alone, etc., and Rachel continues screaming at her as though the apartment were on fire.

In truth, Rachel and Brunette were evidently planning to go on a camping trip with Blondie (I also failed to write down her character's name, but she's played by current indie "It" girl Greta Gerwig). Much more screaming, yelling and ignoring ensues, and then Rachel and Blondie head out for their trip.

Rachel and Blondie appear to be long-lost friends finally catching up with one another, but their camping trip quickly makes clear that their relationship is strained. After a confrontation, Rachel returns home, only to discover a strange man in her bed. He's a friend of Brunette and doesn't take kindly to Rachel's screamed orders to get out of her bed and the apartment. The action moves to a bar, where a pushy, apparently homeless man takes a liking to Brunette, to Rachel's consternation, though Brunette seems to like the attention. Another confrontation in the basement bathroom of the bar soon follows.

The remainder of the film consists of much more arguing, yelling, screaming, ignoring, joking, cursing, ridiculing, criticizing, and, oh yeah, more screaming.

The opening sequence is shot in nose-hair territory (AKA "ultra close-up") with cameras flailing about. Evidently, the poor camera people were stepping on tacks with their bare feet, at least as evidenced by the jumpy photography. The extreme shaky-cam method of cinematography is eased off a smidge after that, but this is not a film for those who suffer from motion sickness.

Yeast is grueling to experience, but, rather like the feeling you have after a prolonged bout of food poisoning, it seems not so bad in hindsight. Bronstein demonstrates a fierce purity of vision. There is no sentimental, sympathetic redemption to be found at the end of the rainbow; the characters do not suddenly become warm and cuddly; there is no softening of the blows that the characters rain down upon each other and themselves.

The very things that make Yeast difficult to watch are the elements that make it worthwhile. And there are certain scenes that induce painful, self-aware laughter, the kind that may remind you of your own misspent youth, or of times you've acted bratty and immature as an adult.

It's impossible for me to recommend the film; it's just too unpleasant. I'm at a point in my life where I've already experienced enough emotional, interpersonal pain and suffering to last the remainder of my days, and I don't wish that on anyone.

If, however, you're seeking out a confrontational, no holds barred, relentless assault -- and you can't afford therapy -- then you might be the kind of masochist that would sit through the entire movie. And later reflect soberly upon it, and maybe even admire begrudgingly what Bronstein accomplished.

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