Filmmaker Romain Gavras (son of legendary political filmmaker Costa-Gavras) hopped up on the stage of the Ritz theater to introduce his debut feature 'Our Day Will Come,' and informed us that his movie is "a romantic comedy that goes nowhere and means nothing." Fortunately for the audience, Gavras was lying. He may not know exactly what it is that his demented, unpredictable, and palpably furious film taps into, but he knows full well that he's touched a nerve of some kind. He's touched it before, after all, and he's perfectly aware of just how much it hurt.
Gavras' visual accompaniment to M.I.A.'s "Born Free" was less a music video than it was a full-fledged short film, a violent 9-minute narrative in which all the redheads of a dusty dystopian city were rounded up and brutally murdered in a style so sadistic it sooner recalls 'Rambo' than Orwell. Incidentally, 'Our Day Will Come' is one of two SXSW movies that slowed and elucidated the worlds they compliment, exploding their music videos into something different entirely, and in the process illustrating how some stories are simply too stirring to leave alone.
'Our Day Will Come' is pissed off. It's a bit muddled and shambling, but it coheres into the angriest film I've seen in years, suggesting at least for now that Romain Gavras is half as talented and twice as mad as his father. Running almost 90 minutes (but quite content to meander through most of them), 'Our Day Will Come' chooses to settle on two characters rather than continue the mosaic-like feel of the "Born Free" music video. The mythology is somewhat unclear, but one assumes that the film is a prequel to the M.I.A. short, as here the redheads are mocked and derided but not -- you know -- forced to run over land-mines until they exploded into plumes of blood and guts that would be equally red regardless of from whom they were formed. 'Our Day Will Come' finds the ginger genocide in its nascent stages, where high school bullying and cruel online deceptions in 'World of Warcraft' haven't yet given way to a full-on police state.
Olivier Barthelemy is Remy -- a jacked teenager with a mat of red hair, he looks a bit like Jesse Eisenberg after a dangerous regiment of Hydroxycut. After Remy assaults his mother and sister, the state assigns him a completely deranged guidance counselor named Patrick (a rusted Vincent Cassel), who soothes Remy like a pack of Mentos soothes a liter of soda. As Patrick, Cassel is at his most lecherous and unloosed, advising Remy like a demented devil on his shoulder, convincing (with a curiously vague sincerity) his protegee that he's some sort of modern messiah.
The duo are ostensibly fleeing to Ireland where their looks would be par for the course, but they're really just on a desperate quest to find a shape to give their sublimating anger -- if 'Our Day Will Come' takes the form of a road-movie, it's one defined by its detours. Remy and Patrick are seldom actually moving towards their destination, and Gavras often sidetracks to observe things like Patrick pissing onto a couple of tourists in a jacuzzi as Remy points a loaded crossbow at them (you know, stuff like that).
Gavras shoots with a clean and stately gravitas, his aesthetic something of a Gallic and pastoral riff on Michael Haneke's trademarked cool. But the calm reserve of Gavras' feature film (an initially discombobulating contrast from the propulsive violence of his music video) affords 'Our Day Will Come' with a simmering fury, both alive and hungry, that's made all the more real and frightening as a result of its shapelessness -- because it goes nowhere.
Gavras' debut wasn't the only film to expand upon a music video at SXSW this year, nor was it the most high-profile of its type -- Spike Jonze sent along a 30-minute film he made with Arcade Fire, a haunting and complete narrative short called 'Scenes From the Suburbs' that elaborates and co-depends upon the video Jonze made for the title song "The Suburbs" last year.
Scripted by Jonze and Arcade Fire lead singer / mastermind Win Butler, 'Scenes From the Suburbs' expands upon the free-wheeling innocence of the music video, using several of the Grammy-winning album's songs to slather a layer of wistful nostalgia over the story of some carefree kids trying to hang onto their innocence during a time of suburban civil war. They bike around their mundane neighborhood, talking about girls and enviously staring at the unmoored airplanes in the distant sky. One of the kids has an unspoken crush on a girl that looks like a young Joanna Newsom; his best friend is dating her, but the tension never develops in the ways you might suspect.
The glimpse of a childhood gone by is morosely narrated from the future, but grounded in the here and now in a world that is unmistakably our own in all ways but one. In one scene the kids talk about how they learned everything they needed to know about kissing from Will Smith's 'Hitch,' (he may not have directed the film, but methinks he deserves a possessive credit), and in the next scene (proverbially) they're impeded from leaving their town by a giant checkpoint staffed by a squadron of gruff, machine-gun toting soldiers. The particulars of the conflict that have factionalized suburbia against itself are never explored -- the kids themselves seem shaky on the details, but the armed helicopters buzzing overhead suggest to everyone that things are bad and they're only getting worse.
The episode plays out like a nihilistic and superior distillation of Jonze's 'Where the Wild Things Are,' a spacey yet succinct coming-of-age saga in which the real world disrupts and crystallizes dwindling childhoods in a sharply violent fashion. Jonze again displays his gift for drawing fully-formed characters out of wisps and moments, effectively creating a small circle of friends that we know and like, even as their youth is slowly becoming a panopticon in which they're all being shoved to the sides. When one of the boys turns to his friends and announce that "You're all characters in a dream that I'm having," it's the kind of moment that suggests that 'Scenes From the Suburbs' will be (and was intended to be) remembered as less of a political allegory than a requiem for a time when the smallness of our lives was a gift and not a symptom.
Curiously, 'Scenes From the Suburbs' doesn't include all of the footage scene in the music video, and the bits omitted from the longer piece are hardly trivial. In fact, the music video opens with a sequence that plays like something of a coda to the short film, and throughout its almost 6-minute running time returns to answer a number of the most pressing questions raised by 'Scenes From the Suburbs.' The two projects are not to be confused for different cuts of the same film. Rather, they complete one another like a key to the lock of a portrait that was painful in pieces but unabashedly tragic when seen in its entirety.
'Scenes From the Suburbs' lets you know these kids and "The Suburbs" music video depicts what happens to them -- Jonze and company have carefully created an interactive call and response, as watching either one of these two pieces on its own provides a slippery impression of a shared and distant dream, while choosing to see them both fills in all the blanks, effectively supplanting the hazy gauze of youth with the violent particulars of how it's obliterated. Together, Jonze and Arcade Fire have created a singalong portrait of the things in life we remember but can't quite reach, a twilight melody that's stuck in our heads and out of our hands.