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by Mark Elijah Rosenberg
January 23rd, 2008

Baghead.jpgJay and Mark Duplass’ “Baghead” is a miraculous film that succeeds in two genres for one simple reason: the characters are amazing. Four struggling actors–two guys and two girls–head off to a cabin in the woods to write a screenplay in the hopes that it will launch their careers. But flirtations, lust, jealousy, competitiveness and paper bags all intercede in their plans.

This simple set up is all the Duplass brothers, and their four talented improvising actors, need to launch a rich and honest, emotionally intricate film that is one of the most exciting pieces of cinema I’ve seen in a long time. To explain exactly why it’s so stunning would sort of ruin it, but suffice it to say that the Mark and Jay have proven that by creating characters who are real but surprising, their remarkable talents can be used successfully to build any style of film they choose.

Though it’s shot in a documentary style, that’s never an excuse for lazy filmmaking, instead using the realism as a base to forge evocative genre-work in sections that are poetic and quiet, sequences which mix shock and comedy, and intercut scenes which layer the intricate drama. Use of silence at three key moments–twice accompanied by a guitar score reminiscent of Will Oldham’s work for Kelly Reichardt’s “Ode,” and once when the characters sit around in stunned quiet–highlight the Duplass brothers’ deft cinematic skills, as the three scenes parallel each other, but each have distinct emotions.

When writing clever plot twists, the trick is always to make them unexpected but believable. “Baghad” succeeds perfectly in that department, but more importantly the characters themselves do unexpected but believable things. The film is so subtle and insightful that it’s almost impossible to write about without resorting to clichés. (It’s like the old joke about the dancer asked to explain the dance, and replying, “If I could explain it, why would I bother to dance it?”) Quoting lines or describing scenes out of context would cheapen them, which is really an indication of how perfect this film is.

So, without getting more into the plot and the styles, I’ll just say that this film should give any filmgoer all that they would want out of a movie: it’s hilarious, touching, lyrical, disquieting. Any one aspect of the film would be sufficient to carry it, and that they’ve struck such a brilliant and delicate balance of emotions makes “Baghead” a delight to watch. I’m sorry I can’t explain it better, but see the movie, email me, and we’ll talk about it for hours. Or, even better, I sincerely hope we can get a chance to screen it at Rooftop this summer.

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Rooftop Films is a New York based non-profit whose mission is to engage diverse communities by showing independent movies in outdoor locations, producing new films, coordinating youth media education, and renting equipment at low cost to artists.

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