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November 19, 2014

Starz Denver Film Festival 2014 - Man from Reno

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Dave Boyle - 2014
Eleven Arts

It's an American independent film, and not one of those so-called indies from a studio. Most of the dialogue is in Japanese. As far as genres go, I think it safe to describe this as neo-noir. And it works.

Maybe one of the things in favor of Man from Reno is that it takes just enough visual and narrative elements from classic noir without any obvious kinds of homages that some filmmakers employ, the kind that tell the "knowing" film viewer that the director has seen Out of the Past, Detour or has read the collected works of Cornell Woolrich. On the other hand, I would be surprised if Dave Boyle and co-writers Joel Clark and Michael Lerman weren't familiar with the films and writers often cited.

Still, it is probably fitting that much of the story takes place in San Francisco, home of The Maltese Falcon. San Francisco alternates with the fictional San Marco County, the kind of place past by if you're driving between the bay area and Nevada. Sheriff Paul Del Moral is driving on an empty road, in fog so thick you can barely see anything in front of your nose. After checking out what appears to be an abandoned town car, Del Moral accidentally strikes down a man walking on the road. The man is taken to the local hospital, only to disappear. In the meantime, Japanese mystery writer, Aki, tiring of her popular series of novels about Inspector Tanabe, does her own disappearing act, leaving Tokyo for San Francisco, meeting old friends, and plotting the end of her fictional creation. Del Moral and Aki are connected by a series of initially unrelated events, with Aki finding herself as a protagonist in her own real life mystery. Among the things to ponder is a suitcase with a head . . . of lettuce.

As the film progresses, it becomes a story of multiple hidden identities, eventually veering into an unexpected ending. Would the film have worked as well had many of the characters not been Japanese, or had everyone speaking English? I can't answer that except that we would have missed one funny scene with Aki and a friend discussing how Americans mispronounce Japanese words (and yeah, I'm guilty). What is refreshing is to have a film with the kind of racial and ethnic mix usually not seen in most American films.

It is because of the casting that Man from Reno features actors who would more typically be relegated to supporting roles, especially Pepe Serna as Del Moral. Ayako Fujitani plays Aki, the thirty-something writer fleeing from celebrity into a trap she could never imagine. Kazuki Kitamura portrays Aki's mysterious lover, and I had forgotten that I had seen him previously in the two Thermae Romae films. What is also nice is that Boyle's characters seem reasonably realistic, when too many filmmakers confuse quirkiness or eccentricities as originality. Man from Reno has rightly proven itself to be a crowd pleaser in previous film festivals, and is well worth seeking out.

Posted by peter at November 19, 2014 06:48 AM