Like “Scared New World,” the 2005 microbudgeter he scripted, Yahn Soon’s helming debut, “Compound Eye,” is a slice of alternative life that’s loose yet oddly compelling, and sports none of the aimless longueurs in likewise semi-improv “mumblecore” pics on the current U.S. indie scene. It’s too modest and marginal for conventional commercial exposure, but fests looking for new directorial talent will want to take a look. Niche DVD and online distribution should follow.
With some thesps more or less playing themselves, “Compound Eye” — largely set in the Compound, an actual, wildly colorful artists’ communal living space in Berkeley, Calif. — willfully blurs fact and fiction. Jesse Reklaw is the creator of the syndicated comicstrip “Slow Wave,” derived from descriptions of dreams that readers send to him; Fausto Caceres is a found-sound collage artist with a pirate radio show.
In the pic’s fictive narrative, the Compound attracts unwanted attention from protesters when a “Slow Wave” strip is perceived as making light of 9/11. This attention also threatens to imperil Fausto’s illegal broadcasts, at a time when he’s ambivalent about a quasi-girlfriend (Atosa Babaoff) and an imminent trip to China. Both are annoyed by hanger-on Josh (a very funny Josh Millican) and a muck-raking reporter (Jill Hartwell).
Interspersed with these likably low-key, sometimes satirical goings-on are pictures and excerpts from a stranger’s journal, which tell the dramatic, real-life story of its author gradual succumbing to schizophrenia. This gives the pic a poignant depth that meshes surprisingly well with the mostly comic tenor of the acted sequences, thanks to deft editing by Soon.
Tech aspects are modest but serviceable; soundtrack consists largely of Caceres’ imaginative, improvisational broadcasts. No production designer is credited, but the Compound interior itself provides ample evidence of its residents’ creativity in turning found objects into art.