My favorite film at this year's Deauville American Film Festival: J.C. Chandor's All is Lost. One of the few films featured at the festival which not only had no guns or gore, but no named characters or dialogue, All is Lost is the story of a lone man (Robert Redford) who finds himself out at sea when, in the first scene, a raft rams his yacht, making it gush water.
photo by Daniel Daza
The man--unnamed and wordless--calmly handles this disaster with ingenious methods, including roping the boat to the raft that harmed it, then bandaging the boat's sides. All this only for new disasters to occur, one after another: a storm, a capsized cabin, the loss of drinking water, a violent tumble off the boat, a pole knocking him out.
What makes this film brilliant is that the man never stops moving (even his sleep lasts seemingly seconds) from deck, to galley, to deep sea: a continual dance between man and boat that made this film visually the most riveting of the festival. What drama one can create with one tiny set (the boat) and one (mostly) mute character! And like a magician in a sleight-of-hand, the film eventually gets rid of its own set, with the effect of a magic potion going up in smoke.
The film reminds us, with Beckett-like precision, of the struggle of daily existence: you manage to fix one thing, then something else begins to leak: ad infinitum, as for Sisyphus. Unlike Sisyphus, Redford for the two hours of the film has the calm and acceptance of an athlete--or a mature older man. He accepts, and then does.
It is above all a gorgeous film to watch, especially with the shots underwater of uniform schools of silvery fish, the bottom of the boat floating overhead, circular like a mandala, or the moody pans on a brow-stricken sky. I especially appreciated the understated music score that came in ever so often to accentuate the man's dilemma, but never to announce it. The sound of the wind in the sails is enough to create the haunting existential feel.
People leaving the theater here at Deauville were beaming. At the end of the festival, this film won the prestigious "Jury Prize."
It is a prize that this film shared with another poetic film, Sam Fleischner's "Stand Clear of the Closing Doors," about a Mexican-American autistic boy who gets lost on the subway in New York, while his family anguishes about his whereabouts.
Opposite to the Redford character, the autistic boy does not make any efforts to save himself or help his situation. He doesn't even remember to eat or go to the bathroom, and simply sits on the A train for days, in absolute wonderment at the impressions and sounds his brain receives.
This part of the movie--as I told the director in passing on the sidewalk, en route to the festival closing dinner---was my favorite section of his film. While the search for the child seems like a tagged-on plot device, the moodiness on the subway captivates. In the boy's head, he sees lights and flashing circles. He is obsessed with spirals, whether on posters or on a passerby's t-shirt. We watch him fixate on a break-dance, on a woman clipping her nails. "DDDDDDDDDDD," he repeats, in joy, observing the sign for the D train. He is in awe at the sights and sounds of the world, and overlooks the need to survive.
All is Lost and Take Care of the Closing Doors: two opposed approaches to being lost, each equally riveting and familiar.