Pet peeve: when movies, especially
thrillers or dark dramas, take pains to show us a television broadcasting
vintage cartoons in the background of a shot. Is there a more overused
and cutesy way of quoting media within media? First, if we are to believe
these movies, Tex Avery and Fleischer Brothers chestnuts are always
in heavy rotation, regardless of the century we're talking about.
(Then again, in "Second World" nations perhaps they are...?) Worse,
the ironic juxtaposition of the sweet and the menacing, or the use of
heavy-handedly ominous foreshadowing--take your pick, both approaches
are common--are typically presented in a nudge-nudge "aren't-we-clever"
style, as if we've never seen this device before.
Well, Bogdan George Apetri's
Outbound also features an old timey cartoon, this time the 1941
Daffy & Porky vehicle A Coy Decoy. Here, however, the New
York-based Apetri seems to be giving us a clue to the thematic and structural
underpinnings of his extremely accomplished feature. At the end of the
cartoon, Daffy opts to settle down with a decoy, which speaks to the
human ability to be happy despite knowing that that happiness has been
pinned on something that's clearly an illusion--kind of like the
final moments of Some Like it Hot.
plot lures the audience deeper and deeper into its world of despair
(a.k.a. the underbelly of present-day Romania) by means of one "decoy"
after another. No, the film doesn't sport an unreliable narrator or
purposely withhold critical information from us. Rather, it's so lasered-in
on its protagonist in-the-moment that we never get awkward scenes of
exposition that explain her backstory or spell out what she may be up
to--and we don't really care. That way, when the revelations do
arrive it's with real impact since it's been easy to forget that
there are basic questions that we've yet to have answered. In short,
Outbound is the kind of film that used to be called "gripping"
and probably still should be: it grabs you, but the experience feels
far more consensual than manipulative
The premise is deceptively
simple. A young woman named Matilda--played by Ana Ularu with such
ferocious self-possession that it's impossible to take your eyes off
her--is released from prison for 24 hours to attend her mother's
funeral. In the course of the day she visits three key people in her
life. At first glance it seems that a rather standard domestic drama
may be unfolding... but then gradually we come to realize why she was
in prison, what she was doing with her life before her conviction, and
what crazed schemes of redemption may be incubating in her head. As
one act clicks neatly into the next, we encounter characters who are
each more unsavory than the last. In this way, poised between a thriller
with psychological dimensions and an intense character study, the true
generic outline of Outbound begins to take shape: it's
a full-fledged Eastern European Noir, and a great one, too. Indeed,
you could easily imagine the story taking place in the 1950's and
being shot in black-and-white.
Throughout Outbound there's rarely a false note to be found on any level. The one exception is the climax. Don't worry--it's neither flat nor overblown. It's actually quite strong (many audiences may even find it devastating); the only problem is that the film seems to know how strong it is, glorying in it a bit, and so draws things out with a marked lack of economy and understatement, two virtues of Apetri's work all along. Still, this is a small knock compared to all the memorable things to be found here. In fact, if New Directors/New Films is all about showcasing talents that one hopes will be making movies for years to come, Outbound must be considered one of its poster children for the 2011 edition.
Outbound screenings at New Directors/New Films: