You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench

"Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench" catches you off-guard and keeps you there.

With:
With: Jason Palmer, Desiree Garcia, Sandha Khin, Frank Garvin, Alma Prelec, Andre Hayward.

A magical amalgam of Jean-Luc Godard, Miles Davis, Morris Engel and “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” helmer Damien Chazelle’s “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench” catches you off-guard and keeps you there. It’s not every day one finds a black-and-white movie with a score performed by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra — or one so umbilically connected to music itself (jazz, mostly), and so simultaneously immersed in observational realism and the conceits of the 1930s musical. A surprise, a delight and a whimsical experiment, it could, despite its rigorous efforts to be noncommercial, end up a bona-fide cult hit.

The Madeline of the film’s title could have appeared in both “Masculin feminin” and a Busby Berkeley extravaganza. Actress Desiree Garcia’s tap dancing is impressive; likewise, her expressive silences.

A romance whose entire setup is revealed behind the opening credits — boy meets girl, boy leaves girl — “Guy and Madeline” is as casual with time as it is with its sources and moods: Gifted composer Justin Hurwitz’s opening theme suggests a “Barefoot in the Park”-era buoyancy, despite the unfolding heartbreak. The jazz performances — Jason Palmer plays Guy, and an enormous amount of soulful trumpet — are spontaneous and real.

The capturing of conversations and faces suggest Cassavetes at his most intimate. Yet when Madeline sings, it doesn’t trigger an avalanche of artificiality. That the music and dance are so underproduced helps knit all these eclectic elements together. As in Jacques Demy’s “Umbrellas,” a suspension of belief is required, but it needn’t be overly suspended.

Guy meets Madeline, teaches her rudimentary trumpet, then, after an erotic encounter on the Boston subway, quits Madeline for Elena (Sandha Khin), a girl of suspect scruples: Prior to her run-in with Guy, she’s tried to pick up a street juggler, giving him a fictitious name; later, she’ll be picked up herself by a white-haired smoothie named Frank (Frank Garvin) and go home with him — only to surprise his 12-year-old daughter, Alma (Alma Prelec). The Frank-Elena sequence is a jarring digression from the main narrative, such as it is, but like much of the pic, it’s engagingly audacious.

Part performance film, part parable about love and art (and which comes first), “Guy and Madeline” isn’t about particularly nice people. Guy is a self-absorbed jazzman, and Elena’s no prize, either; only Madeline, in her longing and song, wins hearts. But there are moments here that are simply transcendent — the point all along of having characters who stop talking and sing.

Production values are intentionally roughed-out, although Chazelle’s monochromatic 16mm shooting is expressive in its shadows. The music is mostly terrific.

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench

Production: A Damien Chazelle presentation. Produced by Jasmine McGlade. Executive producer, W.A.W. Parker. Co-producer, Mihai Dinulescu. Directed, written, edited by Damien Chazelle.

Crew: Camera (B&W, 16mm), Chazelle; music, Justin Hurwitz; sound designer, Geof Thurber; re-recording mixers, Raul Rosa, Greg McCleary; choreographer, Kelly Kaleta; tap-dance consultant, Julia Boynton; associate producers, J. Mark Inman, Evangelo Koehler, Richard Ruiz. Reviewed on DVD, April 18, 2009. (In Tribeca Film Festival -- Discovery.) Running time: 82 MIN.

With: With: Jason Palmer, Desiree Garcia, Sandha Khin, Frank Garvin, Alma Prelec, Andre Hayward.

More Film

  • Robin Sykes's 'In The Game' Wins

    Robin Sykes' 'In the Game' Wins Prizes at Alpe d'Huez Comedy Film Festival

    A magical amalgam of Jean-Luc Godard, Miles Davis, Morris Engel and “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” helmer Damien Chazelle’s “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench” catches you off-guard and keeps you there. It’s not every day one finds a black-and-white movie with a score performed by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra — or one so umbilically […]

  • Steven Soderbergh Panama Papers

    Steven Soderbergh's 'Unsane,' Four Other Films Added to Berlin Lineup

    A magical amalgam of Jean-Luc Godard, Miles Davis, Morris Engel and “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” helmer Damien Chazelle’s “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench” catches you off-guard and keeps you there. It’s not every day one finds a black-and-white movie with a score performed by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra — or one so umbilically […]

  • 'Three Billboards,' 'Third Murder' Set for

    'Three Billboards,' 'Third Murder' Set for Theatrical Release in China

    A magical amalgam of Jean-Luc Godard, Miles Davis, Morris Engel and “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” helmer Damien Chazelle’s “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench” catches you off-guard and keeps you there. It’s not every day one finds a black-and-white movie with a score performed by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra — or one so umbilically […]

  • Blythe Danner and Hilary Swank appear

    Sundance Film Review: 'What They Had'

    A magical amalgam of Jean-Luc Godard, Miles Davis, Morris Engel and “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” helmer Damien Chazelle’s “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench” catches you off-guard and keeps you there. It’s not every day one finds a black-and-white movie with a score performed by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra — or one so umbilically […]

  • Korea Box Office: 'Maze Runner' Opens

    Korea Box Office: 'Maze Runner' Opens on Top

    A magical amalgam of Jean-Luc Godard, Miles Davis, Morris Engel and “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” helmer Damien Chazelle’s “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench” catches you off-guard and keeps you there. It’s not every day one finds a black-and-white movie with a score performed by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra — or one so umbilically […]

  • Jane Fonda appears in Jane Fonda

    Sundance Film Review: 'Jane Fonda in Five Acts'

    A magical amalgam of Jean-Luc Godard, Miles Davis, Morris Engel and “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” helmer Damien Chazelle’s “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench” catches you off-guard and keeps you there. It’s not every day one finds a black-and-white movie with a score performed by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra — or one so umbilically […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content