“Quattro Noza” resembles “The Fast and the Furious” under the influence of Stan Brakhage. Joey Curtis’ directorial debut takes a highly impressionistic look at the world of illegal street racing in Southern California, shot through with an elemental “Romeo and Juliet” format that triggers an unnecessarily nihilistic ending. Due to digital image manipulation that pushes the picture to the boundary between narrative and avant-garde filmmaking, slightly overlong effort is full of striking, fresh visual interludes showing cars, speed and the sensations surrounding the scene. Likely too dramatically inert to make the grade as a flat-out commercial entry pitched at auto action addicts, this distinctive piece is nevertheless promotable and has the potential to develop followings among working-class teens, Latinos and artfilm highbrows.
More than anything, Curtis’ film is distinctive for its unusual visual style, one that takes great advantage of digital’s flexibility for altering perception. Pic is loaded with blurs of motion, compressions and extensions of real time; residual scrawls of red and white left by car lights; privileged perspectives of driving afforded by the discreet mounting of mini-cams in and on cars; and moderate wide-angle distortions amplified, at least at its Sundance screening, by a widening of the projected image.
The film’s look takes precedence over its storytelling, which leaves a lot to be desired. Plot, such as it is, doesn’t kick in for quite a while, scenes are left undeveloped and unnaturally truncated, and motivations are sometimes puzzling, particularly at the climax.
Even so, the affectlessness has a certain power, in that it represents the dramatic equivalent of an automotive low idle suddenly overtaken by the delirious rush of threading through traffic on L.A. freeways at up to 140 mph. Such a sequence comes early in the film, and the way Curtis shoots and cuts makes it thrilling, even though the viewer has no vested interested in any of the drivers, who are a bunch of unintroduced young kids.
Second word of the title refers to a twentyish Mexican named Noza (Brihanna Hernandez) who is religious and caught up in the romantic notion of “endless devotion.” Her boyfriend is Chato (Victor Larios), a vulgar, shaven-headed brute who smokes weed all day and wears a shirt that advertises him as a “Player.”
Living a very different life outside the city is Derek (Robert Beaumont), a likable white kid who has inherited a skill with cars from his flinty father (Gary Brockette), a top racer in the ’50s and ’60s. Derek is called Quattro for the modified Audi Quattro he likes to race on empty desert roads.
Most of the early going consists of atmosphere and situations undriven by plot and narrative: Derek takes on the “legendary” champion of desert racing in a one-on-one and loses, motivating him to soup up his car further; Chato and his crew go on a tagging spree; and so on. But when Chato violates his probation by cheating on a urine test and is thrown back in the slammer, and Noza learns that Chato has cheated on her with her best friend, it leaves the door open for Noza and Derek to pursue a romance when they meet at an illegal street race one night.
Because Derek is a sweet guy and Noza deserves better than Chato, their little love story generates immediate sympathy. But suspicions it can’t end well are confirmed: Chato escapes and predictably acts the part of a mad bull with Noza and Derek. Annoyingly and tragically, Noza plays into this by not warning Derek about her violent ex, and total downer ending offers no sense of catharsis or meaning.
One is left with a picture that depicts the same young, multi-ethnic Southern California world exploited so successfully by “Fast and the Furious” without that picture’s melodrama and sexy characters — but with a unique way of looking at it. At two hours, “Quattro Noza” leaves the impression of being a bit too enamored of itself for its own good, even if some of that admiration is justified and can be seconded by the viewer. Soundtrack and mix are dense and nearly as important to pic’s impact as the visuals.