An absurdist semi-mockumentary about a misfit on a moped who wants to launch a mobile disco in the Scottish Highlands, “Build a Ship, Sail to Sadness” won’t be pedaling into ‘plexes anytime soon, but this film-school grad project does rep an arresting debut for British-based German helmer Laurin Federlein. Shot on the antiquated Hi-8 video format with color and contrast turned up to 11, pic prevails for those responsive to its loopy rhythms on a knockout one-man show by thesp Magnus Aronson. Audience-divider is a fest natural, and cult status is on the cards.
Adventurous production strategy involved Federlein and Aronson showing up unannounced in remote destinations and asking locals if they wanted to be in a movie. Camera rolled instantly on the go-ahead, with Aronson improvising dialogue on the spot. Result plays like a spaced-out combo of “Local Hero” and “Borat.”
Scene-setter is a 10-minute interior sequence showing 30-ish, lightly Swedish-accented Vincent (Aronson) telling a middle-aged woman he’s discovered terrible loneliness in the region. As the listener and the viewer wonder where this lengthy dissertation is heading, Vincent announces his plan for a mobile disco service that’s certain to bring people together and provide the glamour they surely seek. Rather than expressing ridicule or nonplussed disbelief, the woman calmly points out she’s happy and there’s probably not much call for what he’s offering.
Polite indifference to the supremely odd proposal is repeated to disarmingly funny effect wherever Vincent travels. Aronson’s immaculate seriousness and improv skills are at their best when he tries to convince a farmer he needs mirror balls in his life, and when he gives a couple a detailed rundown on how to convert a trailer home into a disco dream palace.
Intercutting these failed attempts to engender local support with snippets from an ever-more revealing video diary, a very clear picture emerges of Vincent’s own profound loneliness. Anything but a one-dimensional joke, the character registers as a lovable dreamer seeking his own brand of perfection with the most imperfect of designs. Contributing significantly to this impression are a handful of hilarious yet poignant songs (written by Aronson), the last of which Vincent performs as a would-be singalong in a pub full of uninterested drinkers.
Visuals, originated on Hi-8 video and transferred to 16mm before finalizing on HD, are the ideal match for the character’s disco-distorted state of mind. Fritzed-out look is that of a TV set on its last legs, with the Scottish hills a kaleidoscope of changing hues, and the lead character’s incongruous presence emphasized by backgrounds frequently burnt out to white. Rest of tech and design package is poverty row to perfection.