Saturday, April 27, 2013

Tribeca ’13: Whitewash

Remember kids, don’t drink and plow.  We’re especially talking to you up north.  It causes plenty of grief for a sadsack countryman in Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais’s Whitewash (trailer here), winner of the Best New Narrative Director Award at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.

Bruce Landry had a pretty depressing life to begin with.  The alcoholic Canadian widower’s only source of income was the occasional freelance snowplowing gig.  One dark and snowy night, he jumps into his plow with his flask and proceeds runs down a man trudging along the side of the road.  In a drunken panic, Landry scoops up the body and drives into the woods, eventually crashing into a sturdy trunk of old growth.

While Landry stews over his predicament, we learn via flashbacks, Landry had some complicated history with the man on the business end of his plow.  After Landry convinces the soon to be late Paul Blackburn not to kill himself they sort of become friends—for a while.

One would think Landry could hole up in his plow for only so long, yet his self-imposed imprisonment never seems to end.  Whitewash vividly illustrates the old adages about how the mind can create its own Hell.  Unfortunately, the audience is condemned along with Landry.

Granted, Hoss-Desmarais masterfully sets the scene and maintains the mood of profound melancholy, but Whitewash is still agonizingly slow to watch.  The understated Thomas Haden Church nicely fits the tone of the picture and excels in the odd comic interludes without undermining the overall existential vibe.  Nevertheless, there is only so much he can do to punch-up the material while staying in character.

Whitewash bears comparison to trapped-men movies like Detour and Buried, but its claustrophobic setting makes much less dramatic sense.  THC admirably rises to the challenge of carrying the film almost single-handedly, but how long do you really want to watch him muttering to himself? 

Tribeca’s juried award winners are often head-scratchers and this year is no exception.  One can understand the recognition bestowed on Hoss-Desmarais for the atmosphere he creates, but not necessarily for his sense of pacing.  Mostly recommended for nationalistic Canadians, Whitewash screens today (4/27) and tomorrow (4/28), as an award winner at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.