Movie Review - The Surface

Harry Hains (left) and Michael Redford in 'The Surface'
Michael J. Saul normally directs short films. His two recent, Go-Go Reject and Adults Only, were about two aspiring artists. One involved an aspiring dancer. The other involved an aspiring photographer. In this film, Saul sets his sights on an aspiring filmmaker. That filmmaker is Evan, a lanky, long-haired, college student who comes across as a little bit depressed. He seems disconnected slightly, especially from his current boyfriend. Yet, he also seems desperate to make a connection, express something or get something out. His drunken rant about the Pacific Ocean with random people speaks to that.

Saul gives insight into Evan's head and the possible source of that depression through narration. We hear a voice-over of Evan who believes he wouldn't know his own family if they lived next door because he never knew his family or family of any kind. He also wonders what it would be like to see himself as a child. He says he was abandoned like an animal. This is juxtaposed with Evan swimming in a pool. The opening is in fact Evan floating alone in water, reinforcing this idea of him being adrift.

It's not until later when Evan is talking to his new boyfriend that it's revealed that the voice-over narration was pointing toward Evan being an orphan and growing up in the foster care system, literally not knowing his own family. Yet, it's through the introduction of Evan's new boyfriend Peter that he can perhaps rectify things.

Evan wonders what it would be like to see himself as a child. He knows he can't. Instead, he purchases a 8mm movie camera from Peter's father. He even is given old, home movies of Peter as a child. Evan watches these home movies obsessively. It's not a stretch that Evan is perhaps envious. The idea that these home movies exist represents something Evan never had, a loving father who cared enough to capture his son's childhood, creating a bond or a connection that Evan desires.

That desire is transformed into sexual desire. His eye for Peter is unmasked during the first time Evan turns the 8mm camera on the much older man. The overly romantic view may be too overly romantic as we delight in the warmth and beauty, and perhaps loneliness of Peter, this handsome, gingerly soul. Peter isn't depressed, but Evan's presence in his life awakens him. Evan's film about Peter is titled "Memory," which non-ironically awakens memory in Peter, buried memory, and Michael Redford portrays that awakening with quiet heartbreak, as he is a man also dealing with loss, not on one but on multiple levels, and is quite sympathethic.

This sympathy is undone a little within a very interesting and cinematic moment that Saul crafts. It's nothing too complicated, but a scene, which has Peter taking off his clothes in slow motion, isn't Saul being gratuitous, somewhat prurient or just leering at Redford's partially nude form. Saul brings in dialogue from the next scene underneath Peter as he slowly disrobes. Listening to the words, it becomes clear that Saul isn't just undressing Peter physically but undressing him emotionally or psychologically as well, an undressing that doesn't just start in that moment.

Peter reveals that he believes people come and go and that he's fine with it. He accepts it. Given Evan's history or lack thereof, he secretly is the opposite. Evan doesn't accept it. He wants something stable, something permanent, a family, and Harry Hains embodies Evan and perfectly conveys this desire, this envy, this depression and this lost feeling. The question is if in the end Evan will be able to find it and Saul's final shot seems to suggest an answer.

Saul has ultimately crafted a lovely film here with a unique idea driving it, which most people might take for granted. It's well-acted, particularly on Michael Redford's part. I've watched it several times now and look forward to seeing it again, as well as future projects from all involved.

Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 19 mins.

Premieres at the Frameline Film Festival, Frameline39, on June 27.
For show times and tickets, go to Frameline39's website.
For more information, go to the film's website, TheSurfaceFilm.com.

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