Sunday, June 26, 2011

DVDebut: Eric Mendelsohn's 3 BACKYARDS offers one day & three stories in suburbia

I can understand why some people might not be particularly taken with 3 BACKYARDS, the latest film from Eric Mendelsohn, who, a dozen years back, gave us Judy Berlin and 18 years ago directed his first short, Through an Open Window. This is not, shall we say, Woody Allen-level output (more like Terrence Malick), but it is enough to have added Mr Mendelsohn, in the eyes of many critics, to the roster of interesting independent movie-makers. Deservedly, I think. His two full-length films are what you might call character-study mood-pieces: quiet, unhurried, of and about the moment, whether it be plangent, embarrassing, frightening or just plain odd.

Mendelsohn, shown at right, has chosen to unite his three separate tales by having them take place in the same town. While we do see -- momentarily, glimpsingly -- the backyard of each of the three families, that word, for me, stands more for the baggage, emotional and otherwise, attached to each of our characters.  There's a lot of it, too, though almost all of it is shown via word and deed, rather than exposition.

One of these backyards -- there are five of them, actually, if you count those of two other characters -- belong to Peggy (Edie Falco, above), a gabby, insecure housewife, who is suddenly asked by her neighbor, an unnamed movie star (Embeth Davidtz, below) who has sublet a house on the block, for a drive to the nearby ferry.

A little girl (Rachel Resheff, below) somewhere else in town, is surreptitiously trying on her mom's charm bracelet when she misses her bus and must then cut across various yards and properties to get to school. Adventures ensue.

Husband/father John (Elias Koteas, below) on the extreme "outs" with his wife, leaves on a business trip, but  hangs around in town, in his own yard, in a hotel and finally in a local diner, making cell phone calls to home as though he were really out of state.

Into his faux life appears a young immigrant woman (Danai Gurira, below) looking desperately for work, though she hides this desperation behind a sunny smile and sweet, chipper delivery. Events, major and minor, happen to all these people, and they handle them as best they can. We watch, grow alternately annoyed, amused, saddened and fearful. And that's it.

Obviously, this sort of movie is not for the Transformers crowd. It's an art film -- full of lifelike behavior that could easily go in an alternative direction at any moment -- and it is artfully made. Running just 88 minutes, it packs a lot into that short time. What does it "say"? I detected no message, other than "Here's a slice of life in our town," to which I'd suggest you give a nibble.

3 Backyards comes to DVD this Tuesday, June 28, via Screen Media Films. You can purchase or rent it form the usual outlets.

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