Everything that’s trite, pretentious and puerile in current Amerindie filmmaking gets a staggering summation in “Island, Alicia,” a three-hour marathon of arty inanity. A would-be psychodrama about a screwed-up young man who beds the mom and then the daughter in the same dysfunctional family, pic is mainly notable for its inexplicable inclusion in a Cannes main section. With near-nil commercial prospects, its best bet for future exposure may be in any fest that cares to jibe the programmers of Un Certain Regard.
While pic reps a talented debut by cinematographer-editor Huy Truong, whose tech contributions are admirably pro (he also produced), its writing and direction by Ken Yunome consist of a “Gone With the Wind”-length compendium of student-film preciousness and ponderous mimicry. Although it could easily play as parody, pic remarkably lacks any awareness that its every move is a cliche of a sort that has been proliferating since the first college sophomore saw “Breathless.”
Story opens with a nine-minute shot of Daniel (Jeff Miller), a bland 23 -year-old, recounting to his psychiatrist a tale of being sexually preyed upon by an aunt during childhood. From here on, the script’s notion of character psychology never leaves the level of TV talkshows and self-help manuals, yet Yunome’s obviously convinced that it’s as profound as Bergman.
In a Manhattan bar Daniel meets an unhappy 40-year-old housewife, Lena (Cheryl Aden), and eventually follows her to her Staten Island home. They begin an affair that ends, after many spaghetti dinners and nearly an hour of screen time, when he finds her stabbed to death on her kitchen floor.
Daniel learns that Lena’s estranged husband committed suicide after confessing to her murder, but that explanation is complicated by the arrival of the couple’s daughter, Alicia (Jane Jepson), who admits to being her father’s lover. Daniel and Alicia then begin an affair that lasts for nearly two hours (and transpires in her mom’s empty house), until her suicide mercifully delivers the viewer.
Pic’s dramatic strategy during most of its length involves witlessly combining the atmospherics and muted stylings of Euro art films (which end up being relentlessly, if unintentionally, travestied) with strenuously “daring” sexual and violent content and highly derivative post-Tarantino pop culture blather.
Stylistically, pic abounds in arty mannerisms: literary chapter headings (story was supposedly inspired by a de Sade tale), fades to white, long silences and absence of music, punctuating shots of windowsills, wind chimes and flowers. Though sophomoric, it’s arguably in the “Interiors” tradition of stiff, prettified High Naturalism.
In the cast, Cheryl Aden’s brittle Lena comes off with the most dignity and dimension. The acting of Miller and Jepson, however, often dips into amateurishness, although when it comes to conveying narcissistic vacuity, they are at times uncomfortably convincing.