Nearly insanely prolific since he got the high-definition religion, veteran indie auteur Rob Nilsson only premiered one writing-directing exercise at his favored Mill Valley Film Festival launch pad in 2001 (last year, there were three). While some prior recent titles had more quantity than quality, “Scheme C6” hits a bracing bull’s-eye. Crime drama-cum-character study is on par artistically with the forbiddingly bleak “Stroke” (whose lead characters put in a brief appearance here), though by contrast pic also reps helmer’s most accessible and entertaining video feature to date. A nagging question remains: Where can these arty no-budgeters go in extant market commercial terms? Nonetheless, “Scheme C6” merits perusal from risk-taking fringe theatrical and home rental distribs, as well as from international fest programmers.
Once again developing story, dialogue and characters with his Tenderloin Acting Workshop members, Nilsson here dips into many characteristic themes, from homelessness to discordant gender relations. But while he’s occasionally succumbed to Cassavetes-indebted meandering excess in the past, new pic tethers its gritty perf textures to a tightly wound narrative that’s part genre suspense, part bad-boy psychological sketch. Results are very much in the tradition that stretches from Godard’s “Breathless” through the ’99 Aussie hyperventilator “Head On,” with hero’s offbeat p.o.v. matched by propulsive, resourceful low-budget stylistic gambits.
Estranged from his apparently mob-connected San Francisco clan, angry young hunk Bid (Cory Duval) nonetheless does everything he can to scorn/irk them — he sleeps in an abandoned lot; flaunts the family’s “untouchable” status among local police by openly shoplifting and driving recklessly; tries to mount petty scams he knows they’ll find out about; and generally behaves like a sociopathic spoiled brat.
Yet he also shows signs of desperately seeking acceptance. Not least among bad ideas in that vein is his earnest romantic pursuit of Yve (Monica Cortes), a blase woman of questionable employment who may simply be toying with his emotions — it’s not even clear whether her personal tastes run toward the heterosexual.
During pic’s compressed pile-up of events, Bid races toward self-destruction, even as he shows signs of turning over a new leaf. Seemingly mercenary Yve has moments where it’s clear even she doesn’t know where her true desires lie. Protag’s terse, semi-accidental reunion with his battle-weary dad also surprises in its unforced depth of feeling.
But framing device (a flash-forward prologue the story eventually catches up to) has already portended a violent end to this immature, conflicted life. Among all the eccentric, vividly played supporting roles, possibly the least successful is the fate-sealing character: a brain-damaged family flunky played by David Fine who should have been better developed/backgrounded in the writing, considering his climactic import.
Despite a few such speed-bumps, “Scheme C6” is overall quite invigorating. Floating humor, lyricism, jittery editorial rhythms, raw improv energy, et al., in one brisk package, Nilsson seems more jazzed at 60 than many filmmakers half his age. Pic sports his usual unfettered command of high-def filmmaking possibilities, making excellent use of unfamiliar San Francisco Bay Area locations, sharp B&W/color lensing, and diverse musical backing. All elements hang together in seemingly off-the-cuff yet utterly confident fashion. Lead thesp Duval is a charismatic find; other perfs are as memorable as they are stylistically varied.
Those few who’ve followed Nilsson’s ongoing “9 @ Night” cycle will note the brief story/character overlaps with such prior features as “Stroke” and “Singing,” through no foreknowledge is required to enjoy this one.