Toronto 2014 Review: SPRING Is No Sophomore Slump

Contributing Writer; Toronto, Canada (@triflic)
Toronto 2014 Review: SPRING Is No Sophomore Slump
"You saw me all fucked up and I am still here." 

So says Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) to his Italian girlfriend, Louise (Nadia Hilker), after discovering that her 'little secret' is well outside his comfort zone. It is this moment, well into the film, when Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson's Spring becomes something special. 

This is not the sweet notion that Evan, a nice California guy drifting through Italy while escaping a number of problems at home, is willing to make a serious commitment to a preternaturally attractive girl after only a few weeks in a foreign country. No, it is the staggering human trait that we can get acclimatized to the strangest things so incredibly fast if we are willing to accept and roll with the punches. For better or worse.

Set mainly in a tiny Italian village of Polignano a Mare, the platonic ideal of picturesque European exoticism. There is a wonderful shot of Evan arriving as an eager tourist: The camera, gliding in slow motion, follows his sight line as he walks through the town taking in the sort of panorama of a post card come to life: Old men playing chess, church bells ringing, sunlight bathing the 1000 year old cobble stones all briefly capture his gaze until the camera swishes past the woman in the red dress. Panning back to Evan, he does almost a twirl, drunk on the possibilities of being rootless in Europe for the first time. As with the character, so is the film.

Evan decides to stay and finds himself employment on a local farm (olives, naturally) that is run by a nattily dressed, jauntily capped widower. The widower is played by character actor Francesco Carnelutti who looks alarmingly like Italy's Christopher Plummer and confirms something from the directing duo's debut Resolution - that they have a knack for casting interesting faces to occupy the periphery and set tone. The town, as small as it is, offers many opportunities to keep running into Louise and a kind of courtship ensues between the naive Yank and the worldly European. 

Not in a hurry to get anywhere, Spring indulges itself in a Linklater kind of vibe and allows for the pair to alternate between charming banter and sex. Religion, pop-mythology and language are avenues of youthful self-exploration, individually and as budding couple. But the camera seems to be always stalking them rather than passively following them. There are many suggestions that we are in a horror film, looming overhead drone shots, close-ups of insects writhing in the dirt - the world being both intimate and unfathomable - expertly cut between the Before Sunrise evening walks and cafe stops. 

And Louise occasionally eats a cat or a bunny or a tourist to keep her increasingly graphic body horror transformations in check. Yes, there is that. By merging two wildly disparate types, the seductive monster film with the budding travel romance, Spring creates a something fresh, intimate and icky (seductive but baggage-laden) that overcomes the familiarity of either genre in increasingly satisfying ways. 

When Louise muses that she only knows 50% of her self, there are several meanings attached to the phrase that the film is inclined to explore both obliquely and explicitly, albeit mostly from the male point of view. The widowed farmer might have some connection, maybe. Maybe not and the filmmaking here is reserved enough to allow for you to draw any tangential or historical connections, while it focuses on the central relationship and other special effects.

After a single viewing I am inclined to believe that Evan and Louise's relationship built here is not going to last, a looming volcano in the background visibly suggests I am correct. It is refreshing to see life and the future embraced with the romance of cinema tamped down only slightly with the wisdom that everything is ephemeral, even the Old World.
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Aaron MoorheadJustin BensonLou Taylor PucciTIFF 2014

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