Movie Review
Quiet City
2007
Director: Aaron Katz
Cast: Erin Fisher, Cris Lankenau, Joe Swanberg
B


a city bereft of noise, populated by characters without a past. The key to Quiet City seems to be elements withheld to make the whole new and fascinating. Of course, that's nothing revolutionary in an art form based on framing, editing, and timing, by which the filmmaker attempts to fashion his own version of reality through what does and does not appear to exist in his universe. But set in a Brooklyn largely devoid of sounds, distractions, or frequently even other people, the world onscreen seems a very obviously redacted version of the one we might experience walking down an avenue in Park Slope on an autumn evening.

We are introduced to this ghostly version of New York City on an IND subway platform, quickly abandoned except for a confused-looking Jamie, played by Erin Fisher. Before ascending to the unfamiliar streets above she stops Charlie (Cris Lankenau) to ask him for directions to a diner at Fourth & Seventh. He graciously agrees to accompany her there, where—once arrived—she reveals that she was supposed to meet a friend, but with no address or working phone number, she's more or less on her own with luggage and time to kill.

This, we soon discover, is a godsend for the directionless, occupationless, girlfriendless Charlie, perhaps the archetypal character in films like this. Not so much a failure as in between potentially successful periods in his life, we don't realize how just little we know about him until a childhood pal accosts him at an art show with questions about unreturned phone calls, lost love in his home state of Florida, and a potential exit from city life. Charlie mostly feigns ignorance, glancing cautiously from time to time at his newfound companion.


While Jamie has much more dialogue, peppering Charlie with questions, proposing an impromptu race in Prospect Park, etc., we discover hidden facts about her as well, most memorably in a haltingly awkward exchange in which she reveals her embarrassingly unhip place of employment. She brings an exuberance to the pair without which the first half of the film would likely fall flat. We may question the sanity of someone who would fly from Atlanta to New York without the address of her destination or even a reliable way of getting in touch, yet awkward, foolish choices are often key to the plots, such as they are, of films associated with that much-maligned signifier, “mumblecore.”

Jamie and Charlie's relationship exists largely in their heads for most of the film. We're required to interpret offhand comments to others, posture, or other oblique signals as to what they're thinking most of the time. Katz provides plenty of time for reflection with his use of pillow shots, frequently twilight images of planes taking off in the distance or smoke rising lazily from factory towers. There's a sense of development within a sort of cocoon, pupal humans maturing before us, yet not in ways apparent to the naked eye. Then again, isn't that kind of how we observe many people whom we actually know?

Quiet City is currently in limited release.



By: Andy Slabaugh
Published on: 2007-09-05
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