SFIFF: Oaktown fugue

Pub date April 21, 2009
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review

The stillness inhabiting Bay Area director Frazer Bradshaw’s Everything Strange and New is broken periodically by the sounds of familial battle and the bemused, unemotive back-and-forth of a trio of men perplexed by the circumstances they have drifted into. The most dramatic intrusion, though, is instrumental, an occasional frenzied jigging of horns and strings that seems to signal the internal noise experienced by one of these uneasy men, a carpenter and family man named Wayne (Jerry McDaniel), who is trudging through his middle years in a state of unhappy wonder.

Shot in Oakland, the film uses a series of portrait-like scenes of house exteriors to convey the static emptiness in Wayne’s life, which he describes in voiceover monologues, his voice rising and falling just outside the boundaries of monotone. The contrast between these still lifes and the recurring shock of the soundtrack is almost painfully discordant, though the landscape intruded on is far from idyllic. When the camera moves inside one of the houses, the one where Wayne coexists with his wife, Renée (Beth Lisick), and their two sons, it’s filled with signs of residence but seems as empty and still and dead as the outside world, as if the family has just retreated from some personal apocalypse. Later the camera trails through a gutted Victorian as Wayne and Renée are heard quarreling, then processing as modeled by some couples’ counselor in their past — more emptiness and a sense of unending minor tragedy. Wayne presents a marriage sapped by financial exigencies such as the now-familiar house worth less than their debt.

These signs of trouble are plain enough, but emotionally expressive. Occasionally Bradshaw leans a little heavily on the symbolic, as when we see Wayne as he envisions himself, in the getup of a clown, and when the film runs backward through a trafficked street scene. More problematic, though, is the awkward shift in direction and shape that occurs when the resident stillness is interrupted by something more sharply horrific than the characters’ day-to-day suffering.


Sun/26, 8:45 p.m.; Tues/28, 4:15 p.m.; May 2, 6:30 p.m., Sundance Kabuki