Melbourne International Film Festival 2014

L for Leisure, MIFF 2014

0 Comments 09 August 2014

“The future is undetermined”, says the man sagely. To his dog. Before teaching said dog to boogie-board.

This moment in Whitney Horn and Lev Kalman’s L for Leisure is a good way to link together the episodic pieces of the previous 70 minutes, and prescribe some kind of meaning to them. Filmed over the course of four years and across multiple continents, the art-house piece of amateur filmmaking (funded by Kickstarter) is a dialogue-driven portrait of 1990s young adult life and its limitless possibilities, set in the liminal time between college semesters ending and beginning again.

Regardless of its atypical narrative (or seeming lack of), to suggest that the film isn’t about anything would indicate an ignorance to the very traditions of American independent filmmaking that L for Leisure aspires to. In the vein of Whit Stillman and Noah Baumbach, directors Horn and Kalman let the dry wit of their hyper-intellectual young protagonists drive the film, their meandering existential conversations punctuated by interruptions about seemingly menial topics, like ice cream flavours.

Played almost entirely by non-actors, these characters deliver every line with a completely earnest sincerity, and it’s something about this genuine lack of pretension that gives the film its sense of irony. Equal parts thought-provoking and absurd, L for Leisure demonstrates how simultaneously insightful yet unaware young people can be about the world around them, while the charm of these characters rescues the film from any fate as a complete social satire.

Despite the intense saturation of 1990s visual and narrative elements, L for Leisure’s conscious appeal to a contemporary young audience is made very much evident through John Atkinson’s original score. At times it’s heard simply through the radio as diegetic background noise to the characters’ lives, and at others as blaring rhythms that create scenes reminiscent of MTV. The synth-heavy soundtrack adds an interesting dimension to those moments in the narrative  that would otherwise have had the potential to come across as slow-moving.

Similarly, the impressive landscapes – from the sweeping forests of California to golden fields in France – captured on 35mm film provide a backdrop that perfectly complements the sense of infinite possibilities felt by the protagonists. As one particular pair spend their 1992 Labor Day lounging on a deck in the Sky Forrest, it’s impossible to not feel somewhat envious of these precocious figures and their apparently comfortable lives.

With its dreamy celluloid aesthetic and authentic dialogue, ultimately, L for Leisure watches like an intimate home movie, made with the group of friends you wish you had.

3/5 stars

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