Tag Archives: American independent film

She’s Allergic to Cats

Shes Allergic to Cats1
She’s Allergic to Cats

Seen at Fantasia 2016, Montreal (Canada)

Format: Cinema

Director: Michael Reich

Writer: Michael Reich

Cast: Mike Pinkney, Sonja Kinski, Flula Borg

USA 2016

82 mins

Premiered at Fantasia 2016, this throwback to 80s video art is deliriously inventive and perversely romantic.

**** out of *****

She’s Allergic to Cats is a terrific picture on many levels. Upon multiple viewings since first seeing it in Montreal at the Fantasia Film Festival in July of this year, I have to admit that one of the more potent aspects of the film was the manner in which it took me back to a period of artistic expression that’s been largely forgotten, in spite of its profound influence upon how movies began to be made and continue to be made to this very day.

The film is a deeply personal film, but as such, it also has inspired – in me – a myriad of personal reflections.

In the halcyon days of making movies in the not-so-bustling Midwestern Canadian winter city of Winnipeg, there was an old schmatta factory in the schmatta district of schmatta-central which had been converted into a six-story emporium of aesthetic exploration called the Artspace Building.

The third floor housed two important non-profit arts organizations. One was the Winnipeg Film Group where I lollygagged, slacked and made movies during the 1980s with the likes of Guy Maddin, John Paizs and a few other wing nuts. The other was Video Pool. We seldom ventured across the hall to visit. They made video art, you see. As far as many of us film snobs were concerned, Video Pool’s creative output was little more than belly button sludge. That said, on those rare occasions in which we actually dared lay eyes upon the matter regurgitated upon – ugh – three-quarter-inch video, even us film snobs had to admit there was occasionally something, dare I say it, cool going on.

The coolest video art, however, was practised on Winnipeg’s community cable station VPW where some of the most insane Chroma-keyed madness was belched out with such frequency and mad genius that I even grudgingly joined the charge and produced a talk show devoted to surviving nuclear annihilation. Masked and frothing at the mouth whilst Chroma-keyed images of nuclear test footage exploded behind us on blue screen, I starred in the show alongside Guy Maddin and Maddin regular Kyle McCulloch (star of Tales from the Gimli Hospital, Archangel and Careful).

At the time, all of us were obsessed with the simple, gorgeous video art techniques employed by the mesmerizing music videos generated by and for The B-52s.

Here it is, some 30 years later, and I’m not only re-obsessed with an arcane, but highly influential form of visual art, but it’s all because of one brand new and genuinely wonderful picture.

Once in a while, you see, I experience a film that reminds me of the joys in those days of generating no-to-low-budget features. The accent was always on the love of cinema, innovation, and most of all, cool shit that I and my colleagues would be happy to pay money to see ourselves. Given our collective cinematic predilections, our only nod to ‘marketplace’ was knowing there had to be whack-jobs like us ‘out there’ who’d pay money to see stuff that we thought was cool.

My personal credo was thus: if you’re making a movie for very little money, it better goddamn well be something that puts you and the film itself on a map. Impersonal ‘calling card’ films had only two results: making something competent enough that you might end up in regular network series television or worse; not being able to overcome the meager production value and generating a movie that nobody would want.

She’s Allergic to Cats made me happier than happy. From the opening frames to the magnificent cut from a hilariously poignant final image to the first of the end title cards, I found the picture endlessly dazzling, deliriously perverse and rapturously romantic. This is exactly the kind of first feature which an original filmmaker should generate. Writer-director Michael Reich boldly announces his presence with a friendly fuck-you attitude, a great sense of humour and a visual style that should make some veteran directors be ashamed of their by-the-numbers camera jockey moves.

Though there is no official genre called ‘schlubs who get to successfully seduce babes’, She’s Allergic to Cats would definitely be leading the charge if such a thing did officially exist – it’s kind of like a Woody Allen picture on acid through the lens of wonky, nutty 80s video art.

Mike Pinkney, the actor, plays Mike Pinkney, the lead character – a schlub extraordinaire who works a day job as a dog groomer. and in his off hours, makes retro-styled video art and/or endlessly watches the horrendous, compulsively watchable 70s TV movie with John Travolta, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. These viewings include Mike eating sweet, unhealthy breakfast cereals. His home is also disgustingly infested with rats that seem to devour everything – from bananas to condoms. The landlord’s only solution is to eventually ‘look up’ a solution on Wikipedia.

Mike’s dream is to make a feature film homage to Brian De Palma’s Carrie – with CATS!!! His producer thinks it’s the stupidest idea he’s every heard. Mike is dejected and persistent all at the same time. Amidst the slacker/McJob existence he leads, Mike miraculously hits it off with Cora (Sonja Kinski – Nastassja’s daughter, Klaus’s granddaughter), a mega-babe who happily agrees to a date.

Here, director Reich deserves to win some manner of official accolade for creating the most depraved ‘meet-cute’ in cinema history. All I will say is that it involves the incompetent clipping of a dog’s nails on the quick, causing them to bleed.

The entire love story is mediated through Mike’s filmmaking/video-art perspective. The result is a chiaroscuro-like mélange of garish ‘video’ colours, cheesy (though gorgeous) dissolves and plenty of sexy video tracking errors.

Though the film’s final actions can be seen from a mile away, ‘surprise’ is hardly the point. There’s a sad and deeply moving inevitability to where things go. Reich achieves the near impossible. We laugh with his main character, we laugh at him and finally, we’re given a chance to weep for him.

Yes, on many levels, She’s Allergic to Cats is a head film, but it has heart and soul. This is something of a miracle. Then again, this should come as no surprise. Getting the film made must have been a miracle and what Reich’s efforts have yielded is nothing less than revelatory.

Greg Klymkiw

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Format: Dual Format (Blu-ray + DVD)

Release date: 4 July 2016

Distributor: Arrow Video

Directors: David Siegel, Scott McGehee

Writers: David Siegel, Scott McGehee

Cast: Dennis Haysbert, Mel Harris, Sab Shimono

USA 1993

95 mins

In this seminal American independent film, a black man takes on the identity of his ‘identical’ white twin brother.

Sampling a single frame from any of the features directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel offers evidence of the striking visual aesthetic that defines their work. A thrilling synthesis of composition, editing and design (visual and aural), Suture (1993), followed by The Deep End (a carefully calibrated update of Max Ophüls’s The Reckless Moment that gave Tilda Swinton one of her first American roles in 2001) and Bee Season (2005), has seen them imprint their indelible signature style on contemporary American filmmaking. Completed under the aegis of a major studio, Bee Season was a move up in division, but it was vastly under-appreciated on release, and so it is perhaps little surprise that McGehee and Siegel have returned to independent production with the as-yet-to-be-released Uncertainty, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2008.

Introduced by McGehee’s sister Kelly, who was studying at the San Francisco Art Institute alongside Siegel, Scott and David bonded over movies and discussed a possible collaboration. Neither had attended film school (McGehee was studying for a PhD in Japanese Film History at UC Berkeley; Siegel was doing an MFA at the Rhode Island School of Design), but with Kelly as production designer the pair completed a number of short films before deciding to tackle a feature. Audacious enough in its conception stage to attract the attention of Steven Soderbergh, who came on board as an executive producer, the witty and supremely confident Suture made an immediate impact on the American independent landscape. When it was originally released in the UK at the Institute of Contemporary Arts I vividly recall going to see the film seven consecutive nights in a row. Some 16 years later, its potency and originality remain undimmed.

Despite having met his identical half-brother Clay (Dennis Haysbert, today best known as the pre-Obama black American president in 24) just once – at their murdered father’s funeral – wealthy sophisticate Vincent (Michael Harris) invites his blue-collar sibling to stay with him in Phoenix, Arizona. As this is ostensibly a bonding exercise, Clay is dismayed to learn upon arrival that a business trip necessitates Vincent’s immediate attention. After dropping his brother at the airport, Clay is involved in a horrific car explosion that leaves his face burned beyond recognition, his memory erased and Vincent’s desirable Rolls Royce a write-off. With the aid of a psychoanalyst and a leading plastic surgeon, Clay is slowly pieced back together. Unfortunately, he’s reconstructed as Vincent, now the primary suspect in his father’s death.

Suture is a sophisticated, post-modern affair borrowing freely from the B-movie thriller, the American avant-garde and the film noir, including stylised chiaroscuro lighting, a complex flashback structure and the focus upon a moral landscape predicated on corruption and greed. The film nonetheless brings its own intoxicating embellishments to the Hitchcockian mix (1945’s Spellbound, with its Salvador Dalí-designed dream sequences, is an obvious and acknowledged influence). An intelligent analysis of identity, class, the Lacanian duality of mind and body and the physical and mental means by which we define ourselves, Suture features at its core compelling performances from Harris, who is slight and white, and Haysbert, muscular and black. ‘Our physical resemblance is striking’, remarks Vincent in a typically deadpan moment. The naming of a character after the philosopher Descartes and the use of ‘Ring of Fire’ (both Johnny Cash and Tom Jones versions appear) as a charred Clay is transported to surgery offer further evidence of the mischievous humour of the filmmakers – who both briefly appear as gurney operators – amidst the film’s lightly and comfortably worn highbrow tendencies.

Masterly shot in austere black and white by Greg Gardiner (who won an award for the cinematography at Sundance in 1994) and boasting Kelly McGehee’s stunning production design (the inventive use of modish 60s office interiors evokes Godard’s Alphaville), Suture is also significant in its compositional assurance and positioning of characters in relation to objects and buildings. The Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino (The Consequences of Love, The Family Friend and Il Divo) would perhaps be the closest contemporary point of reference. The final face-off between Vincent and Clay, shot from high above in an ornate bathroom, an image that became the film’s enticing poster, is especially memorable. The film is also remarkable for its disjunctive editing and the overlapping use of sound from one scene to another, techniques that reference the pioneering work of the late 60s theorist Jean-Pierre Oudart, who drew parallels between the psychic processes of subjectivity and the structuring language of cinema.

Relatively rarely seen in recent years due to restricted availability, Suture is finally available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK in a brand new 4k restoration so that first-time viewers and those who were seduced by its innumerable pleasures back in 1993 can now be reminded of the film’s originality and vitality.

Jason Wood, Artistic Director of Film at HOME, Manchester, will introduce a screening of Suture at the ICA on 7 July 2016.

Jason Wood

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This review was first published in the aummer 09 print issue of Electric Sheep Magazine.



Format: Cinema

Release date: 13 February 2015

Distributor: Metrodome

Director: James Ward Byrkit

Writer: James Ward Byrkit

Cast: Emily Foxler, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon, Lorene Scafaria, Elizabeth Gracen

USA 2013

89 mins

Coherence begins like any number of US indie flicks: a group of affluent young professionals gather for a dinner party. The faux-improv dialogue and shaky camerawork are as you’d expect. The performances are completely convincing. But there are references to a comet passing overhead and the strange things that can happen as a result – a not too convincing pretext for a sci-fi twist.

However, when the twist comes, it bounces off the naturalistic style in a way that’s very entertaining. A power cut blacks out the neighbourhood except for one house up the hill. A couple of the guests go to investigate, and return with a crazy story: the house with lights is the same house, and the same people are inside, eating their dinner. A box has been retrieved, which contains numbered photographs of everyone at the party. And a table tennis paddle.

If you’re susceptible to this kind of plot hook, you are now hooked and must keep watching (the way you watched Lost) in hopes of a satisfactory explanation. A dramatically – not scientifically – satisfactory answer does actually come together with a snowballing set of peculiar consequences to what is apparently a breakdown in the barriers that normally keep us from mingling with the people in the universe next door, and the one next to that, and the one next to that…

As the situation develops into increasing craziness, perfectly logically given its loopy premise, relationships break down along with reality, and a mild form of Lynchian terror is unleashed. It’s also rather funny. ‘There are a million universes out there and I slept with your wife in all of them!’ I found it all rather irresistible. The one wrong step seemed to me the introduction of violence, the breakdown of civilisation, which misses the point of the particular anxiety the story concept trades on, which has to do with doppelgangers and being unable to trust your senses, and what is sometimes called jamais vu – ’I have never been here before,’ said as you walk into your own home and meet your loved ones without any sense of familiarity.

This review is part of our 2014 EIFF coverage. Coherence is released on DVD in the UK on 16 February 2015 by Metrodome.

David Cairns

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Frances Ha

Frances Ha4
Frances Ha

Format: Cinema

Release date: 26 July 2013

Distributor: Metrodome

Director: Noah Baumbach

Writers: Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig

Cast: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver

USA 2012

86 mins

It all starts with a mobile phone. Frances, a 27-year-old living in New York, points out that her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner) has become distracted since getting a ‘cell with emails’. They’re at that age: on the cusp between post-grad optimism and the realities of growing up, and while some (Sophie) are cranking up to professional success and personal fulfilment, others (Frances) are still struggling to get themselves going.

Frances, played by mumblecore darling Greta Gerwig, is a long-term dance understudy. Refreshingly, Frances is what Americans refer to as a bit of a ‘clutz’, masculine of gait and gauche of manners. It is no surprise to the viewer that she is forever the stand-in and never the lead. At the beginning of the film, she splits up with her boyfriend and the ensuing action sees the remainder of her life (primarily her close friendship with Sophie) unravel.

With its New York setting, witty yet flawed female protagonist and concern with the hinterland between youth and adulthood, Frances Ha already appears a lot like Lena Dunham’s Girls, and that’s even before Adam Driver (who stars in the HBO series, as well as Dunham’s earlier film, Tiny Furniture) appears on screen, playing a potential love interest for ‘undateable’ Frances. You may wonder whether it was budget constraints or a nod to Tiny Furniture that caused Frances’s parents to be played by Gerwig’s own parents, just as Dunham’s mother and sister starred as those of her character in Tiny Furniture. The answer is probably both. It most certainly can’t be a coincidence: Gerwig, who co-wrote the film with Noah Baumbach, and Dunham are good friends.

But where Girls is squalid and explicit, Frances Ha is cute and whimsical, thanks in part to its French New Wave influence (it is shot in black and white, has a soundtrack that references Truffaut and indulges Frances with the occasional long tracking shot of her running or dancing through Manhattan). It is also funnier. Where Dunham’s characters might strip off and engage in humiliating sex on camera, Frances simply refers to an ex who could only climax when having sex with her from behind, lamenting the fact that in this position ‘all the important things are covered’.

To challenge the current popular thinking that television has overcome film as the medium with which to tell sophisticated and powerful stories, despite using the same milieu and subject matter as Dunham, Baumbach and Gerwig have created something more joyful and more entertaining than its television counterpart. But they’re lucky. Their film, which has an uplifting if slightly idealised ending, exists in its own finite universe. Girls, which is far more bleak and problematic, is perhaps feted to be so, given that it lives or dies on the vagaries of television commissioners. The mediums have similar backgrounds but, while one is already established in telling stories of this nature, the other is still finding its feet, just like Sophie and Frances.

Lisa Williams

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Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Format: Cinema

Dates: 19 October 2012

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: Studiocanal

Director: Benh Zeitlin

Writers: Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin

Cast: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly

USA 2012

93 mins

Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) is a little black girl who lives with her daddy, Wink (Dwight Henry), in the Bathtub, a small, ramshackle Louisiana riverside township of rundown rummies, long-in-the-tooth hippies and out-and-out outsiders. This is the community of the other, the one that doesn’t think of itself as a victim even as it falls off the map: hell, it doesn’t even enter into Mitt Romney’s 47%. They live on the margins in the wetlands, happy to be forgotten and left alone, but the world is changing and Hushpuppy dreams of terrifying giant hogs, old creatures that will be released by the melting ice of the Arctic and will descend on their community, destroying everything in an end-of-days stampede.

Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild caused a great deal of critical buzz after its premiere at Sundance followed by its entry in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes, and the praise was amply justified. Zeitlin’s film approaches a section of society that is often generically ghettoised in worthy social realism. His mixing of poverty with a rich strain of dark Gothic fantasy does have some problems, but the exhilaration of a film that refuses to tick the usual boxes and prefers to follow the chaotic breathless journey of its main character and narrator is well worth the ride. Hushpuppy herself is an admixture of Huck Finn, Pippi Longstocking and Dennis the Menace; she’s an ASBO Alice in Wonderland, but all that said, she’s also herself, a perfectly original angry unique little girl. She lives near her dad Wink – but crucially not with him – but Wink is ailing. Along with the awakening Lovecraftian aurochs, there’s a very real storm brewing and flood is coming, and Wink’s wrung out body is at the wrong end of a lifetime of alcohol and neglect. Hushpuppy makes sense of her own dilemma on her own; she draws her own history of the universe on the walls of her shack; tends to her animals and communicates with her long-lost mother, who she now feels she must find if everything is going to be alright. She even attends school occasionally, but, being Bathtub, it isn’t exactly a Michael Gove-approved academy. ‘You are all meat,’ the teacher tells her wards – that is, when she’s not preparing voodoo medicine.

The music, cinematography, the sense of place, and the wonderful narration Hushpuppy provides – ‘The world belongs to us. It was made for us’ – creates a bold, challenging vision and, although moving, the film never descends into mawkishness. It never asks for sympathy – ‘No tears,’ Wink shouts at Hushpuppy. However, there is a danger that in the fireworks (quite literally at times) and the yelling and whoops of celebration as well as the millennial excitement and dread, the film might remain oddly comforting. Hushpuppy’s empowerment seems a part of the fairy tale skeleton of the plot. A corrective might be Roberto Minervini’s Low Tide, which premiered at Venice this year, and which tells a very different story of a child’s resilience in the face of awful parental neglect. The two films would make for an interesting double bill.

That said, Hushpuppy’s mission is really to stand alone. And this is a film that weaves its fascinating magic and leaves all other questions for another time.

John Bleasdale

Red State

Red State

Format: Cinema

Release date: 30 September 2011

Venue: UK wide

Distributor: Entertainment One

Director: Kevin Smith

Writer: Kevin Smith

Cast: Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman

USA 2011

88 mins

Three horny young high-schoolers find a local woman through a website who appears willing to take them all on at the same time. Ignoring their own qualms, they set out one night only to wind up drugged, abducted and taken to preacher Abin Cooper’s notorious fundamentalist church community, who are, it emerges, bent on ridding the world of homosexuals and perverts, one at a time. But a traffic accident earlier in the evening means that first the cops, and then the FBI get involved. Between the well-armed apocalyptic god-botherers and the trigger-happy Feds, it’s anybody’s guess as to who will survive…

Part horror movie, siege drama and political screed, Kevin Smith’s Red State is an unsubtle broadside blow delivered at the likes of Kansas’s Westboro Baptist Church, taking in federal incompetence and post-9/11 national security along the way. It benefits from great performances. John Goodman is great as a conflicted G-man trying to do the right thing as it all goes to hell. Melissa Leo convinces alarmingly as a mother and genuine believer in the End Times desperate to go to her reward and happy to take her children with her. And Michael Parks is fantastic as Abin Cooper, genuinely charismatic, and delivering his homespun message in an entrancing sing-song burr that almost hides the poisonous garbage he’s spouting.

Smith always seemed to be a filmmaker who missed the ‘show, don’t tell’ module of the screenwriting course. He could put together foul-mouthed dialogue like no one else, but wanted it to do all the work, and never seemed that interested in making cinema. Red State has a visual style, abandoning the usual meat and potatoes camera set-ups for something more fluid, hand-held and intimate. There is, especially in the first hour, a palpable sense of threat and unease unknown in the rest of his work. For once the screen isn’t full of surrogate Smiths riffing on pop culture, but living, breathing people with wider concerns. He can’t maintain it, of course: the last reel is pure info dump delivered by people who wouldn’t be talking like this; the Federal superiors seem to be a dope smoker’s idea of what such people would be like. There are jagged tonal shifts and dramatic dead ends. It’s messy, but it’s thrilling, creepy and continually does things you don’t expect. Smith claims that he’s retiring as a director, which, on this evidence, is a pity. For the first time in years I’m interested in what he’s going to do next.

Mark Stafford

Life during Wartime

Life during Wartime

Format: Cinema

Release date: 23 April 2010

Venue: Curzon Soho, The Gate, Renoir, Ritzy (London) and key cities

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Director: Todd Solondz

Writer: Todd Solondz

Cast: Ciarí¡n Hinds, Allison Janney, Shirley Henderson, Ally Sheedy, Paul Reubens

USA 2009

96 mins

The term ‘sequel’ suggests a cinematic safety net for filmmakers and audiences alike; bigger and better than before, but immediately familiar and easily accessible. Sequels are, of course, also associated with the role of cinema as a commercial enterprise, and it is rare that Hollywood invests in a follow-up to an unsuccessful film, unless there is a palpable sense that the core market was not adequately targeted. In fact, sequels are so synonymous with the Hollywood mainstream that they represent the antithesis of American independent cinema, which is defined more by its social-political sensibility and aesthetic experimentation than it is by box office returns. However, some American independent filmmakers have navigated the cinematic territory of the sequel; Richard Linklater revisited the characters of his backpacker romance Before Sunrise (1995) with Before Sunset (2004), while Kevin Smith caught up with the convenience store slackers of his debut feature with Clerks 2 (2006). Both directors were able to comment on the passing of time through characters that were already familiar to their small but loyal audiences.

Life during Wartime finds Todd Solondz attempting a similar trick, revisiting the dysfunctional family of his jet-black comedy Happiness (1998) to explore the theme of forgiveness through reference to the seemingly irredeemable acts committed in the earlier film. The work of Solondz, which also includes Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995) and Storytelling (2001), has always been more divisive than that of Linklater and Smith due to his exploration of such subjects as child molestation and statutory rape and his strangely sympathetic attitude towards paedophiles and obscene phone callers. The director must be commended for finding financing for a sequel to a film that many viewers struggled to sit through on its initial release, although Happiness has since become a cult favourite and the subject of some discussion with regards to the suburbanisation of American culture. Solondz also breaks with sequel convention by refusing to bring back the actors from the previous film while aiming to achieve tonal consistency through his finely observed screenplay.

Life during Wartime opens with Allen (Michael K Williams, formerly Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Joy (Shirley Henderson, formerly Jane Adams) celebrating their first wedding anniversary, only for Joy to discover that her husband is still a pervert, prompting a move to Florida where her mother and sisters have relocated. She finds Trish (Allison Janney, formerly Cynthia Stevenson) moving on with her life following the incarceration of her ex-husband Bill for sex crimes and embarking on a romance with the older but ‘normal’ Harvey (Michael Lerner), while Helen (Ally Sheedy, formerly Lara Flynn Boyle) is now writing screenplays in addition to novels, but remains mean-spirited despite receiving attention from Keanu Reeves and Salman Rushdie. Joy struggles to reconnect with her family, and receives ‘visitations’ from former suitor Andy (Paul Reubens, formerly John Lovitz), who committed suicide after being jilted by Joy ten years earlier. Although the early scenes seek to establish Joy as the emotional anchor of Life during Wartime, the focus shifts to the more grimly compelling story strand of Bill (Ciarí¡n Hinds, formerly Dylan Baker), who is released from prison and visits his son Billy, now a college student majoring in sexual deviancy in the animal kingdom, to make sure that the sex crime gene has not been passed on to the next generation.

Solondz’s stab at subverting sequel conventions through re-casting is sometimes distracting, but serves to underline his oft-stated view that, as much as people may try to change, they remain fundamentally the same. Some of the casting changes are more successful than others; Paul Reubens mines the same tragicomic depths as John Lovitz, while Ciarí¡n Hinds is a hulking, haunting presence, a self-declared ‘monster’ who physically embodies the potential threat that was so expertly disguised behind Dylan Baker’s buttoned-down suburban facade. Unfortunately, Ally Sheedy does not so much take over the role of Helen from Lara Flynn Boyle as deliver an exaggerated impersonation of her predecessor, and Michael T Williams is not afforded enough screen time to establish a dramatic link between his interpretation of Allen and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s earlier incarnation.

The title of the film refers to the current political climate in the United States, and there is discussion of terrorism, which Solondz links to the topic of paedophilia, and references to Bush and McCain. Perhaps surprisingly, the director is less interested in criticising the Republican regime than he is in finding forgiveness in its aftermath, while Trish’s insistence that ‘sometimes it’s better not to understand’ suggests that the director may even be questioning the necessity of his own brand of cinematic provocation. While there have been subtle shifts in the cinematic universe of Todd Solondz, there have been more noticeable readjustments in the world of American independent film; in 1999, Happiness received a release through Universal subsidiary Good Machine, while Life during Wartime will rely on the comparatively guerrilla strategy of IFC. It is arguable that Solondz has been somewhat marginalised in recent years, but this ‘sequel’ exhibits a newfound mellowness that those who lost interest following the middle-class mockery of Storytelling may find oddly endearing.

John Berra