The everyday mysteries of ordinary folk in a rural Washington State town form the substance of “Apart From That,” an original and resonant feature debut by co-directors-writers-editors Randy Walker and Jennifer Shainin. The American theme of lives lived in quiet desperation is sensitively applied through each of the film’s elegantly woven strands, all reaching a satisfying end without feeling neatly resolved. Euro and Asian fest dates should follow, but the real test will be if a Stateside distrib shows courage enough to handle this outstanding if demanding work.
Pic’s ensemble cast of regional eccentrics and multiple narratives follow a well-trod indie path. But just beneath the surface is something plainly new, fashioned by young artists with a defiantly personal sense of visual design and pace, along with considerable sympathy for their exceptionally human characters. Result is a pic that may easily draw comparisons (from Jarmusch and Cassavetes films to “Me and You and Everyone We Know” and “Old Joy”). But pic stands apart in many ways.
Five major characters are first viewed incidentally at a party; they’re unsure what to say or do with themselves. Sequence gently leads into the pic proper as it patiently tracks this quintet the following day, 24 hours prior to Halloween.
Ulla (Kathleen McNearney), training as a beautician, rents a room from elderly Peggy (Alice Ellingson), who has a habit of phoning the volunteer fire department and undressing upon their arrival.
Swinomish tribe member and highway worker Leo (Tony Cladoosby) is a family man feeling dazed by the impending death of his close friend Calvin (Lawrence Cordier).
Forced to downsize, Vietnamese bank manager Sam (Toan Le) must fire the bank’s marketing topper Lee (Gary Schoonveld), and contend with the fallout from his adopted son Kyle (Kyle Conyers), whose best pal Tiffer (Joe Rose) is Lee’s son.
Each story strand carries added meaning, while visuals provide glimpses connecting these disparate and lonely folk. While never expressed, Kyle’s driving concern about Lee’s firing suggests Kyle’s own deep-set fear that — as an adopted child — he too could be “fired.”
Ulla’s tape-recording the sounds in Peggy’s house can be viewed as a means of preserving this chapter in her life. The fact other, less-flattering readings are possible, too, reflect Walker and Shainin’s interest in observing their characters’ quirks and faults while reserving judgment.
Because of the film’s emphasis on improvisation (drawn from a predominantly non-pro cast), some scenes may feel like throwaways. But there are no disposable moments.
Indeed, “Apart From That” hinges on small moments that could have played as either precious or been non-starters. Bravely, surprises abound, not least an end that doesn’t draw resolutions, but rather conveys life’s ongoing passages.
Though Ellingson comes close to stealing the show in a frisky, flinty portrayal, McNearney is a perfect counterpart, with her own exceptionally choice scenes. In the film’s most difficult and interior role, Cladoosby impresses as a good man thrown off his axis. Le and Conyers create discomforting domestic friction that conveys an emotional gulf.
Pic makes no big deal about its multicultural makeup, but it’s worth noting this is one of few Yank films to depict Native Americans, Scandinavian Americans and Vietnamese Americans as simply everyday Americans, but with their own ethnic identities in place.
As a tyro foray by co-directors, the film is a marvel, with a singular vision in mood, editing, design and look. Shooting style (supported by talented, agile lenser Erik Forssell) smoothly blends wide-angle shots with telephoto work. Locales in far northwest Washington State are seen as only a local could depict them, from gritty back alleys to fecund pumpkin patches and forest glens. Further magic comes from composers Christopher and Patrick Shainin and Brian Olpin, who fuse a folkie touch with jangling atonal sounds.
Pic’s credits list 153 cast members. Filmmakers plan for a 35mm transfer print from Super-16 original, but are currently showing the work in vid transfer.