The latest feature from writer-directors Lev Kalman and Whitney Horn (L for Leisure) — which world-premiered as part of the annual BAMcinemaFest in Brooklyn, New York — occupies a space between irritatingly and inventively eccentric. It’s a period piece, set in Colorado over three days in September 1893, just after the start of the Denver Depression, that never tries to conceal its overarching falseness. Though shot on location, it often feels like we’re on the backlot set of a low-grade TV Western.
Signposts that seem fresh from production design, the paint barely dry, advertise places like “Town” or goods like “Candy.” Wardrobe is too clean, as if it’s been plucked from some high-end vintage store. Even the cinematography (“shot on Kodak motion picture film,” per the first onscreen title card) adds to the shaky sense of reality by being literally shaky itself, each scene and sun-dappled landscape captured with a slight visual tremble. The intention appears to be to keep viewers perpetually off-balance. Imagine Alex Cox’s anachronism-prone political oater Walker (1987) reconceived as a half-sickly, half-soothing cinematic soporific, or a karaoke cover of Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man (1995) that becomes, over time, its own beguiling composition.
Fine and dandy.
You’ll know if this is your sort of thing fairly quick, likely right from the moment the central trio of characters introduce themselves to a general store proprietor as Ozanne Le Perrier (Laetitia Dosch), Alta Maria Sophronia (Marianna McClellan) and Milton Tingling (Benjamin Crotty). Silly names beget stranger occupations: Le Perrier is a French geologist with intimate knowledge of Colorado’s many cliffs and crags; Sophronia is a con artist turned mystic (who may still be a con artist); and Tingling is a dandy/watercolor painter whose attitude toward his surroundings is alternately curious and contemptuous.
The three travelers are searching for several restorative hot springs (hence the film’s oddball genre designation — “spa western”), all of which are off beaten paths and typically in disrepair. Is it right to call their journey digressive when it appears to be made up of nothing but detours? Robert Altman regular Michael Murphy cameos as a rancher who’s all too happy to be swindled by Sophronia. The group befriends and has several tequila-fueled discussions with a pair of cowpokes named Ken Buns (André Frechette III) and Cliff Perfecto (Travis Nutting). In the film’s best sequence, Sophronia leads a seance outside a whorehouse that climaxes with what can only be described as candlelit under-the-covers ghost sex.
This is the kind of movie in which a character is surprised by a cat and quickly remarks on how it’s the finest pussy he’s seen in weeks. It’s also a film in which whimsy is frequently supplanted by an overpowering sense of dread, much of it courtesy of an unearthly score by John Atkinson and Talya Cooper that turns on a dime between ebullient and ill-omened. Would it entice or repel you further to mention that La Perrier, Sophronia and Tingling look to be the puppetlike playthings of a cabal of equine divinities?
Two Plains & a Fancy is a cosmic joke forged on a Kickstarter budget. To paraphrase Jessica Rabbit, it made me laugh.
Production company: Ball Deep Int’l
Cast: Benjamin Crotty, Laetitia Dosch, Marianna McClellan, Maria Cid Avila, Alex Decarli, André Frechette III, Libby Gery, Michael Murphy, Travis Nutting, Kim-Anh Schreiber, Logan Boyles
Directors: Lev Kalman, Whitney Horn
Writers: Lev Kalman, Whitney Horn
Story: Sarah Dziedzic, Whitney Horn, Lev Kalman
Producers: Abby Eudora, Annalise Lockhart, Nathan Silver, C. Mason Wells
Cinematographer: Whitney Horn
Editors: Lev Kalman, Whitney Horn
Music: John Atkinson, Talya Cooper