Forgotten humans populate “The Century Plaza,” tyro documaker Eric Lahey’s fly-on-the-wall look at life on the inside of a forlorn single-room-occupancy (read, skid row) hotel in downtown Portland, Ore. Distinctively unsentimental if more than a bit voyeuristic, the film never confronts the political implications of its subject while also not quite getting to the heart of the lives of any of the several hotel denizens. Fest play will be robust, while theatrical and ancillary biz remains a question mark.
Lahey lived in the run-down, century-old lodging for six months, and his lensing takes on a neighborly approach as he goes door to door. He finds some interesting characters who are clearly at ease speaking to him, but who rarely open themselves up for a complete portrait.
One extreme is Greg, a religious crack head whose swings between discussion of his devout Mormonism and getting high make it look like he’s performing for the camera. Another extreme is longtime resident Arthur Libin, a destitute intellectual who yearns to offer up his reflective thoughts on life, death and God.
It’s hard to know what to make of such people as Manesh, an Indian emigre with an eye on the future but no money in his pocket; or Bob, who seems the gentlest of the group until it’s revealed he’s a convicted child molester. A kind of storyline emerges around the troubled family of Manuel and addict wife Chaz with young son Devon, who’s finally taken away by his dad when mom proves hopelessly non-attentive.
Pic’s concerted interest in the individuals living and working in such dank quarters tends to lose sight of the social causes behind such sub-standard urban warehousing of the homeless, making it hard to view “The Century Plaza” as little more than an elegantly made snapshot of the desperately poor. Part of that elegance, which seems a tad out of place given the subject, comes from stunning time-lapse shots of the hotel exterior and Calen Kennett’s ghostly sound design.