Friday, November 11, 2016

Selfless (2008)

Director: Jacob Pander                                  Writers: Jacob & Arnold Pander
Film Score: Auditory Sculpture                      Cinematography: Kevin Fletcher
Starring: Josh Rengert, Mo Gallini, October Moore and Jennifer Hong

The Pander Brother’s film Selfless has taken a real beating online, receiving a meager four out of ten on IMDb, and a dismal zero percent on Rotten Tomatoes. But that’s a shame. Despite this being a first feature--with all the attendant problems that usually incurs--it is undeniably a visually stunning film. This should not be a surprise, however. The brothers hail from Portland and have been graphic artists involved in creating cutting-edge comic books since they were in their teens. They are among a number of young filmmakers plying their trade in the Rose City, creating music videos for the thriving music community as well as collaborating with Portland luminary Gus Van Sant. The film deals with the recent phenomenon of identity theft and takes that idea to the extreme. Josh Rengert is an architect who has it all, a great girlfriend, a model apartment, and a job working for a firm that’s about to close a major deal designing a new skyscraper in Seattle. The film opens at the airport in Portland, with the credits rolling over people going through security and having to reassemble themselves, belts, shoes, and suitcases, before heading to the gates across the iconic PDX carpet.

As Rengert is waiting for his flight to Seattle, he pulls out his sketchpad and begins drawing stewardess Jennifer Hong. A few minutes later Mo Gallini sets down next to him, irate over being fired while on his cell phone, and Rengert wastes no time in moving to another set of seats. When Hong strikes up a conversation with him and sees his drawing of her, she asks him to sketch someone else. The angry Gallini is still on the phone fuming, and so Rengert begins a quick caricature of him but is caught in the act. Gallini abuses him verbally, and there is a definitely the threat of physical violence before everyone goes their separate ways. What Rengert doesn’t see, however, is Gallini picking up his architectural magazine and getting his name and address off the subscription label. A few days later back at home, Rengert’s girlfriend October Moore has purchased a couch and Rengert’s controlling personality comes out as he wants her to take it back. It turns out he’s the same way with his partners. While the investors want him to make some modifications to the building design, Rengert absolutely refuses. But because of all this Rengert loses sight of the campaign being waged against him. Not only has he been tricked into giving up his social security number to a phony bank alert, but he suddenly discovers that Jennifer Hong is his downstairs neighbor.

As with so many first features, the Pander’s screenplay is easily the weakest part of the film. As supremely confident as the brothers are with their visuals style, their ability to render believable characters is very much the opposite. Even so, the acting in the film is solid despite the script. Josh Rengert does a good job in the lead role. One particularly nice moment is when he has lost everything and freaks out in his car. Pander pulls back his camera and the audience can literally see the car shaking. October Moore as the girlfriend is feeling the need to start a family, which Rengert balks at, being too wrapped up in his work. This drives a wedge between the couple that keeps her from supporting him later in the film. The real star of the film, however, is Jennifer Hong in a double role as the stewardess and her twin sister who has been smuggled into the country, forcing the stewardess to act as a drug mule to pay off her debt in return. She is an enigmatic figure in the film, and one isn’t sure whether she’s working for Gallini or not. As for Mo Gallini himself, he’s a credible villain who would have been helped a lot if he’d been given an equally credible motive.

It’s not difficult to see why ratings for the film are so low. There’s a great deal of incoherency in the plot. Aside from the lack of motive for Gallini, there is the problem of Rengert’s inability to comprehend an obvious attack on his computer. And when the viewer wants things to be ratcheted up on the identity theft, personal credit cards, utilities shut down, nothing happens until later, allowing the tension-building opportunity to slip away. The visuals, on the other hand, are stunning. Pander bathes the screen in the white glare of overcast Northwest weather, while the locations have been meticulously selected for their clean lines and uncluttered look. In one impressive sequence near the end of the film, the brothers use their graphic arts skills in a lengthy animated sequence where Rengert imagines himself walking through the building he has designed. The close ups and camera angles, as well as interesting montages, also suggest a graphic novel approach to the shooting of the film. Overall, it’s a very compelling film and, taking into account the missteps of first-time feature filmmakers, Selfless ends up being an impressive piece of work that makes one hope the Pander Brothers will be able to make more features and develop their not inconsiderable skills even further.

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