Monday, October 14, 2013

"Finally, Lillian And Dan"

Watching “Finally, Lillian And Dan” is like discovering a treasure chest buried in your garden and finding it to contain precious metals as well as a long-lost copy of the Bible. You feel privileged to witness a rare and beautiful thing that was there under your nose for so long, and you want to share it with the world. Hopefully I will achieve this with my review. 

Both titular characters are young, single and lonely. Lillian (Gretchen Akers) works at a nondescript office. In her first scene, her boss awkwardly asks her out on a date. All Lillian can do is sip nervously on her coffee, answering with small talk but incapable of giving a proper reply. The only fellow human being she regularly interacts with is her grandmother (Lucy Quinn), who is tired of coddling her.

Dan (Jason Kean) is unemployed and spends most of his time wandering around in his car or in the streets, carrying a large pink toy rabbit. Everything about him, from the rabbit to his round, shy eyes, suggests a lost child looking for someone to share feelings and moments with.

In the hands of a more conventional filmmaker, the meeting of these two odd souls could have been a pleasant but fairly unexceptional independent romantic comedy like “Juno”. But Mike Gibisser, like John Cassavetes, refuses to satisfy his audience’s desire to be entertained. His characters are distant, obscure, a little frightening in their otherness, and nothing is done to make that otherness appealing or likeable. The audience has no choice but to take them as they are, and bear with them. 

Take the scene in which they first meet: A checkout line at a supermarket. A wordless repeated exchange of furtive glances and deliberate avoidance of eye contact. Gibisser avoids sentimentalism by focusing on his actors’ body language and small automatic yet uncalculated gestures: The way Lillian readjusts the collar of her jumper, Dan’s lowered darting eyes. The surrounding sounds of products being placed on the counter and indistinct distant conversations help ground the audience in the reality of the moment. Thus the scene’s tonal shifts, such as the sheepish little grin that spreads on Lillian’s face after Dan looks at her a couple of times, become truly special moments of happiness.

Lillian and Dan build their relationship by communicating with each other through their body language, expressing much more of themselves than they do with their dialogue, which can be at times indistinct and whose content is, most of the time, fairly anecdotal. Through Gibisser’s monochromic lens, his patient examination of their body language and his actors’ performances (including a truly miraculous one by Gretchen Akers), Lillian and Dan discover love in a way that I’ve never seen done before in a film. They may not be the most “realistic” couple in the sense that they do not necessarily evoke couples we know or form. Rather, they are a canvas, used by Gibisser to reveal the gradual discovery of each other’s feelings and bodies that is love. The final shots before the credits roll is about as perfect an ending to a film as I’ve ever seen: 

-          Seen from above in elbow-level shots, the couple is lying together in bed for the first time, fully clothed and chaste as can be. They’re still feeling a little awkward; Dan is fiddling with his collar and fingers, as Lillian smiles nervously at him. She gets a little closer to him, tentatively raising a finger to touch him before snuggling closer to him.

-          We cut to a point of view from behind Lillian, as Dan still fidgets about then sits up to remove his cardigan, every movement diligently followed by his camera.

-          Return to the above point of view. Dan is lying with his eyes closed and his hands clasped together on his chest. Lillian is still looking at him tentatively. After a few seconds, she lies flat on her back and shuts her eyes. Dan, his eyes still closed, then turns on his side to face her. Lillian makes a final little turn on her side to complete their symmetry. The shot is held for a second or two, allowing the characters’ finally-achieved inner peace to sink in before the end credits roll. All is well.

 Finally Lillian And Dan” can be viewed in its entirety for free at Vimeo:

Mike Gibisser, in the unlikely event that you may be reading this, thank you for making this little gem and for making it available for the world to see. It is a happier place for it.

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