The story of a guy taking a trip with his terminally ill pet hamster.

“Etienne!” is the story of a guy taking one last trip with his terminally ill pet hamster, and if that sounds like the epitome of painfully high-concept quirk, it’s to writer-director Jeff Mizushima’s credit that he takes the central relationship very seriously — which is not to say it isn’t also funny. An affectionate, raggedy road movie that feels like a throwback to more innocent times, this enormously likable but tonally wobbly, visually rudimentary effort feels best suited to smallscreen play.

Portly, earnest college dropout Richard (Richard Vallejos, sporting a tragicomic moustache) is devoted to his adorable gray hamster, Etienne. When the little critter’s diagnosed with cancer, Richard takes a break from his job cleaning hotel lavatories to embark on a bike tour, during which he and Etienne have a series of brief, pleasant encounters with a bereft dog lover (Vittorio E. Razi) and a pair of traveling musicians (Great Northern’s Rachel Stolte and Solon Bixler), among others. Mizushima’s episodic yarn blossoms awkwardly but sweetly into a tale of two lonely souls (the other played by Megan Harvey) on a collision course, sort of like a low-budget Kieslowski movie with rodents.

Etienne!

Production

A Cineasta Prods., Jacques a Bale Pictures production. (Sales: Circus Road Films, Santa Monica.) Produced by Jeremy Boering, Kurt Schemper, Joel David Moore, Giacun Caduff. Executive producers, Jeff Mizushima, Joshua H. Miller, Tim Jackson, Reiko Kondo. Directed, written, edited by Jeff Mizushima.

Crew

Camera (FotoKem color, 16mm-to-DV), Tim van der Linden, Eric Kim, Mizushima; music, Mark Bachle. Reviewed at CineVegas Film Festival (Jackpot Premieres), June 13, 2009. Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Richard Vallejos, Megan Harvey, Molly Livingston, Matt Garron, Caveh Zahedi, Thibault Debaveye, Marisa Pedroso, Vittorio E. Razi, Rachel Stolte, Solon Bixler, Courtney Halverson, Lisa Strauss, Jerry Mosher, Sarah Virden, David Fine, Jeremiah David Turner, Rinalda Caduff, Kenley Gaffke, Tim Armstrong, Brian Vanderpol, Ekaterina Sidunova, Toshiro Sorimachi, Sophia Myles.
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