Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sundance grad SEPTIEN comes to the big city, starting today at the IFC Center in NY

One whopping strange movie that you can't tear yourself away from because you will not have seen anything much like it, SEPTIEN should hold you in thrall for all of its bizarre 81 minutes. The work of writer/director/costar Michael Tully, costar Robert Longstreet (who is also given co-credit for the story and executive producing) and costar Onur Tukel (who also gets co-story credit), could hardly be simpler in terms of plot. An extremely hirsute fellow named Cornelius (Tully) appears one day at the old homestead after an absence of 15 to 20 years. Though his brothers Amos (Tukel) and Ezra (Longstreet) can't seem to agree on how long he's been gone (or on anything else, for that matter), they welcome this supremely silent sibling back into their (very strange) fold.

I'd say the movie is set somewhere in our south -- I can't be more specific --  yet there's a definite "southern" flair there. Wisk together a little Faulkner with Flannery O'Connor and Erskine Caldwell as a jumping-off point, blend some Tennessee Williams into the mix (for "gaiety" rather than purple prose or southern belles gone off the deep end) then pare it all down to low-budget/
near-mumblecore proportions -- and you might have some sense of the kind of left-over style (non-style?) on hand. Whatever: it works. Tully (that's he, taking a call, at right) and his faux bros (below: Tukel's at center with Longstreet on the right) are so completely believable in their roles that they easily pull us into their exotic little universe. (Only in the south, I think, could this particular family exist.)

Brother Amos is an artist, whose bizarre work provides the subject behind the opening credits: very penis-heavy portraits that also include some, um... cannibalism. Mr. Tukel is so specific and terrific in this role that he creates something quite memorable. When I said in the paragraph above that this was Williams minus-the-southern-belles, I stand corrected: Brother Ezra somewhere along the way has morphed into the boys' late mother. And if actor Longstreet has not already done it, he could easily play Amanda Wingfield. A big man and butch enough, his performance here, wearing some lovely "day" dresses, is amazing -- ranging from utterly real to comic to sadly touching.

As for Mr. Tully's Cornelius, he's generally silent, except when he's conning a bystander into a game of tennis, basketball (above), even soccer. His brother's portraits show him to have been a football star in high school; good at everything, he's clearly kept his hand into sports during the intervening years. The only other characters are a ex-football-coach (who's now a plumber), his rather sweet, quite nice-looking (and far-too-young-for-him) girlfriend, a local boy named Wilbur who might (or might not) be slow, and an angel/prophet whom we first see appearing from a porto-san and who might or might not be imaginary. What a mix. What a movie.  I am not at all sure that it means to be, but it is, finally, one hell of a lot of very weird fun.

Excrement is also a vital force in the film.  It appears in the paintings, overflows the plumbing and is perhaps responsible for the initial entrance of our "spiritual" icon. (Normally I would object to this kind of religious tomfoolery, but here, it's almost welcome.) Puzzles figure into things, too (and why not? The movie is one), and so does music. There's an odd little song, Smother the Demons, that becomes particularly memorable, sung as it is in weird harmony by the three brothers.  The cinematography is often washed-out, even drab -- intentionally, I would guess, or maybe for lack of a budget -- but so indelible are these characters and the world they inhabit, that I think this is one Sundance movie you're going to remember. What you'll make of it (I'm not sure that this even matters) is another question.

Septien had its world-premiere at Sundance last January, while simultaneously making its Sundance Selects debut via VOD (the above review is what I posted about the film at that time). Now it's opening theatrically today at Manhattan's IFC Center, while continuing on VOD. Click here to learn how to get it On-Demand.

The photos above are from the film itself, with the exception 
of the one of Mr. Tully on phone, which comes 
courtesy of Sarasota Magazine.  And what about that 
terrific poster at top, based on the art created for the film? 
Its budget must have exceeded that of the entire movie...

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