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Darren H

Something, Anything (2014)

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Something, Anything, which premiered last week at Wisconsin and Sarasota, will almost definitely be of interest to folks around here. It's about a young woman who has a spiritual crisis and ends up visiting the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. The film doesn't have distribution yet, but it will definitely spend most of the next year on the festival circuit. I'd recommend seeing it if you get a chance. I'm hopeful it will find a buyer. My interview with writer-director Paul Harrill (who also happens to be a friend) was just posted at MUBI.

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I hope you like it, Jeff. Paul and I went to see The Immigrant last week and then had a drink afterwards. I asked him what he'd been up to, and he described for me what it's like to publicize a film without any budget whatsoever. I was happy to hear your name when he mentioned the handful of critics he'd reached out to.

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Bumping this thread because Something, Anything begins its one-week theatrical run tomorrow. I'm pretty sure Paul was working on this script when I met him ten years ago, which explains why I got unexpectedly emotional a few minutes ago when The New York Times named it one of this week's two Critics' Picks. I'm really excited for him and also just happy that this quiet film is finding an audience.

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Michał Oleszczyk, RogerEbert.com:

“Paul Harrill’s debut feature, ‘Something, Anything’, is the kind of movie you feel protective of even as you are watching it. Its rhythms and inflections are so subtle, it almost comes as a surprise just how compelling they ultimately become. It is an unmistakably ‘small’ film, but as the story builds up and the characters come into focus, you know you are witnessing something rare and precious: an American independent film that’s understated and intelligent, as well as utterly free of showiness and calculation ...

Far from a standard-issue indie in its basic premise, Harrill’s first outing as a writer/director is very mature in its treatment of a subject from which movies often shy away: the awakening of a religious impulse in a secular, educated adult. Unlike such recruiting posters as the recent ‘Heaven is For Real’ or the 1943 chestnut ‘The Song of Bernadette’, ‘Something, Anything’ is close in spirit to Fred Zinnemann’s great 1959 ‘The Nun’s Story’, in which a particular woman’s religious vocation was treated with all the attentiveness and respect one would hope for when dealing with anyone’s sense of purpose in life ...

It’s small wonder that the opening motto from a poem by the 19th century poet Christina Rosetti (‘Who has seen the wind? / Neither you nor I; / But when the trees bow down their heads, / The wind is passing by’) makes perfect sense in a work of such theological humility and simple, unforgettable beauty.”

 

Jeannette Catsoulis, The New York Times:

"... A postcard from an old high school acquaintance (Linds Edwards) who has entered a monastery intensifies her spiritual curiosity, but the movie doesn’t look to religion for salvation or explanation. Examining a more generalized discontent through the lens of one woman’s pain, the writer and director, Paul Harrill, concentrates instead on the ordinary details that constitute a life and the way small choices nudge us toward larger ones.

 

Modestly presented but emotionally ambitious — and with a lovely, low-key performance from Ms. Shelton — this immersive first feature gently reveals the void of an adulthood on autopilot. Peggy’s transformation isn’t earthshaking, just a gradual evolution from quiet desperation to something like hope."

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By the way, Something, Anything hits streaming services on 1/20. I know Paul has deals with Netflix and iTunes but I'm not sure which territories they cover.

Edited by Darren H

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This film is a little treasure. There are a few elements I didn't like (such as the use of written word during periods of writing), but I really liked the pacing, script, many of the compositions, and lead performance. And I found the overall thematic direction of the film to be profound and worthy of contemplation. It captures the tension of spiritual discovery so well. 

 

I have tired of having concepts like "community" and "transparency" brandished as the sine qua non of authentic Christianity. The Christianity of our era has lost its sense of the noble, courageous embrace of one's interior confusion as a place in which we can hear God's voice. We shy away from the solitary pilgrimage as a form of God's direction for seasons of our lives. Personal crisis has become a matter of communal management rather than a gift of lonely and consequential suffering. 

 

Really dig Harrill's vibe here.

Edited by M. Leary

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It's out today on Google Play, iTunes, and Vudu.

 

No Netflix yet.

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I loved this. The sense of rhythm here is impeccable. Hou has been on my mind a lot this spring because of the retrospective that's been touring the continent, but I don't think I'm reaching in saying Tennessee just revealed its own Hou.

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Fourth time. Loving it more every time. There is a subtle poetry running through it that just keeps on giving. 

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Nathan, I told Paul you'd compared his film to Hou Hsiao-hsien. He's always grateful to get any favorable comparison, and then he asked to borrow my Hou DVDs. :)

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Fourth time. Loving it more every time. There is a subtle poetry running through it that just keeps on giving. 

 

Yes, but I find the film so gripping because it treats a certain southern evangelical/Christian subcultural angst in a humanizing way. There are so many books out there (like Rachel Held Evan's blogging) that package this angst into tidy little morsels for consumption, briefly satisfying a craving for deeper Christian sustenance - but only briefly because much of this writing is junk food.

 

This film embodies my growing suspicion that our spiritual biographies have deeply suffered from the constant blogging and facebooking of our little realizations or opinions. I think I wrote something in my review about the film using the structure of religious pilgrimage to suggest that abandoning the family structures and church communities with which we are so familiar may be an act of radical faithfulness (at least in the context of the film's storyline). The church is not a constellation of blogs and chatter and debates that unite our mental space, but a bunch of people out there pretty sure they are walking toward something honest and true even though it is a little scary and they feel alone or disconnected at the moment. 

 

If I ever get the opportunity to teach a class on spiritual life or disciplines - I would want to start with this film. To show that we have to be willing to start over and trace the saintly steps of others who have wandered faithfully through crises similar to ours. It is okay to hit the reset button. To start over. It is okay to shoulder loneliness for stretches of time. It is okay to end up somewhere different than you started.

Edited by M. Leary

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Very well said, Michael. I'm writing a personal essay for school about religious formation, and I'm using this movie as the framework within which I explore.

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We'll see how it turns out. If it goes the way I hope, it will be something I re-work later into the opening chapter of a follow-up to Through a Screen Darkly.

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Caught this last night. Glad I did. I think it's an earnest attempt to capture the texture of a spiritual crisis, although having recently seen Hadewijch, I don't think it holds up to Dumont's epic of the soul, which is tougher and makes fewer compromises. Where it succeeds, fitfully, is as an unconventional romance. Simply put, it's about a woman who suddenly finds herself alienated from her husband and inexplicably attracted to another man. What attracts her to this man is neither good looks nor material success, but spiritual devotion, which quickly proves contagious. Whether he represents a romantic alternative to her selfish husband or a "divine appointment" on her way to Christian transcendence the film doesn't say. But this coyness tends to work in the film's favor, honoring the mystery suggested by the Rossetti poem which opens the film.

Between this, Museum Hours, and This Is Martin Bonner, I see an encouraging sub-genre developing: minimalist micro-indies made by seekers for seekers. In every film, the camera hardly moves, the writing focuses on the tentative unfolding of new friendship, and the acting inclines to a relaxed, naturalistic clarté. In terms of technique, Cohen's film is easily the most sophisticated of the three, but each has its merits.

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Also, I haven't read a single review--not one--that makes the simple yet salient observation that Ashley Shelton wears a false hairpiece throughout the entire film. Or is everyone just too polite to point this out?

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I DIDN'T WANT TO KNOW THAT. 

Argh.

And here I just kept getting distracted by the possibility that it was a deliberate reference to Three Colors: Blue. But then Harrill told me he's never seen it.

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I had just assumed it was because Harrill had a very specific character in mind, which made the hair requisite. But I watch a ton of first features/local filmmaker work every year, so I may be desensitized to these kinds of choices. 

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The hair is an explicit reference to another film but not Blue. ;)

Something, Anything was shot over the course of several years and, until the final moments of production, was self-financed. The wigs were a necessary compromise.

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