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Eugene Weekly : Movie Review : 10.26.06


Real Quiet

Two friends find themselves in the mountains


OLD JOY: Directed by Kelly Reichardt. Written by Jonathan Raymond and Kelly Reichardt. Cinematography, Peter Sillen. Music, Yo La Tengo. Starring Daniel London, Will Oldham and Tanya Smith. Kino International, 2006. Unrated. 76 minutes.

Sorrow, according to the film Old Joy, is nothing but worn-out joy. It's a fitting description from a film about how opposites attract and repel each other, transforming themselves in the process. A subtle, graceful and haunting film, Old Joy is the story of two old friends who reunite for one weekend in the mountains east of Portland.

Kurt (Will Oldham) and Mark (Daniel London) in Old Joy

As the film opens, Mark (Daniel London) sits quietly in his yard. Tanya (Tanya Smith), his pregnant wife, works half-heartedly in their kitchen. Is Mark meditating, or is he recovering after an argument? It's the first of many brittle moments that Old Joy refuses to interpret. Instead, Old Joy evokes subtle shadings in mood by observing changes in the natural world, like rain clouds or birdsong or a gurgling creek.

Mark's phone rings, rupturing the quiet. Kurt (Will Oldham), an old friend, invites Mark up to Bagby Springs for the weekend. Kurt is the kind of guy who took too much acid back in college. There's darkness to him, but there's a light shining through. He borrows money a little too easily. His non-sequiturs reveal him as both uneasy and unpredictable. In other words, Kurt's mere presence creates immediate and unavoidable tension. Kurt could either shatter Mark's existence or help Mark finally transcend it.

As the two friends reminisce on their way into the mountains, Kurt's stories of carefree living make Mark thoughtful about his life. Naturally, they get lost. Fortunately, Mark is patient. He lacks Kurt's hippie self-assurance, but Mark is solid and predictable, if a little ineffective (he acts like a child around his wife). Mark never asks Kurt to explain himself, even after Kurt's sadly comical explanation of string theory. You can get to the moon on fractions, man, but Mark won't say so to Kurt.

Kurt has a little breakdown the first night, the sort of twitchy-tweaky rant that scares Mark a little. The film, like their relationship, is frail and delicate; you sense the fissures, but are they expanding or withdrawing? At the hot springs, the vast silence only reinforces the fear and despair of their everyday lives. It's no escape because you cannot escape your own life. But then something shifts between them. The tension mounts until an incident occurs, so subtle that it makes Brokeback Mountain look like an Ed Wood picture.

Old Joy unfolds like a passing thought, a brief dream, but does it work as a film? Absolutely. This is a confident film that uses silence to great effect, boasting a quiet but evocative score by indie mainstays Yo La Tengo. Those familiar with Portland will love the street-level images of that fair city (as opposed to Gus Van Sant's interiors, which could be anywhere). Shot primarily from a moving car, Old Joy is an elegy to Portland in all of its refurbished glory, from its bungalows and parks to its silos and bridges.

After the two friends say goodbye, Mark returns to his domesticated life. But is he the same person he was when he left? What is Kurt doing in the final frames? What exactly is he seeking? See Old Joy to find out.

Old Joy opens Friday, Oct. 27 at the Bijou.



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