quiet marriageLubbock’s  5th Annual Flatland Film Festival opened last night (Oct 15) at the Louise Hopkins Underwood Center for the Arts. The first half of the program offered four shorts films . The second presented a full length ( 85 minutes) feature, A Quiet Little Marriage. Spoiler alert! The plots of these films are discussed in detail below.

Expectations at a relatively new and small film festival should be appropriately scaled. The four short films were made by local film makers though only the first two were shot in Lubbock. The first movie, The Last Red Leaf by Arif Kan, was the longest at 20 minutes. It was about a dying mother who recollects the death of her son about 20 years earlier in an automobile accident. I’m not sure what its point was other than bad things often happen out of the blue. The second film, (Llano Estacado Blues by Amy Kim) was equally depressing. It detailed the effect of a minor bureaucracy on two poor people trying to get food from a local food bank. The three main character repeated the same lines (each one had a different one) throughout the film’s 11 minutes. While much great art is depressing it also offers more than depression. If all I want is depression I can stay home and look in the mirror.

Things improved with the last pair of shorts. Matt Chauncey’s Frame was shot in Brooklyn. It depicts the visit for a dinner to the apartment of a cohabiting couple by the man’s mother. They have told her that they are just “roommates”. She is skeptical. She tends to believe the arrangement after sneaking a look at the apartments two bedrooms. One is neat and well kept – presumably the young woman’s. The is other a mess – what you’d expect from a young man with no woman to clean up after him. But when mom returns to the living room and spots a picture, in a glass frame, of the couple in an affectionate pose her suspicions rekindle.

Some time passes and the young woman notices that the incriminating photo is gone. She asks the man is he knows where it is. He doesn’t know. They wonder if mom has taken it. The man doubts that she has but says he call her and ask. He does while the woman goes into the neat bedroom and spots the picture in its unbroken frame under the cover of the bed as the man enters with the phone connected to mom. A good joke

The final offering was a cartoon. Tattoo. There’s only one character – a man living alone who passes a tattoo parlor on his way to work. The next time around he gets a tattoo of a swan on his abdomen. The swan moves and responds to the man’s environment. Soon after it lays three eggs from whence hatch three cygnets. The grow up and fly away. The man ages and eventually dies whereupon the swan flies away. Clever and moving.

The feature A Quiet Little Marriage is about a thirty something couple (Dax and Olive) who are very happy at least until Olive decides she wants a baby. Dax who comes from a mentally unstable family refuses even to talk about it. He also feels the world is in such bad shape that it’s crazy to bring a child into it. So Olive puts holes in her diaphragm. Dax accidentally finds out and spikes her coffee with birth control pills. Their happy little marriage is now shifted to a foundation of deception.

Sub plots include Olive’s demented father whom she love and visits regularly. But she can’t accept the reality of his deteriorating condition. Dax has a druggie brother whom he regularly enables by giving him money, food, and shelter.

Things crash when Olive discovers that her morning coffee’s been adulterated. Dax hits her with the leaky diaphragm. Just before the confrontation Olive had made a fruit Slurpee into which she had poured every pill in the house including the hidden birth control pills. She didn’t drink it, but when Dax returned from a jog he saw poisoned beverage and slurped it down. Thus the argument about “No copulation without population” is stopped when Dax collapses from the overdose. Since it’s hard to die from an overdose of birth control pills, Dax is treated at an emergency room and sent home.

The couple splits, but they’re miserable apart. Olive’s father dies suddenly from a stroke and she runs back to Dax for consolation. They decide to get back together and Dax suggests they have a baby after all. They both agree whereupon Dax’s drugged out brother shows up with a baby which he’s had by a druggie girl friend (maybe he married her).

The brother says he can’t take care of the baby and leaves it with Dax. He takes into the house and shows it to Violet. The movie more or less ends at that point. Dax’s original idea of remaining childless seems the best course at this story’s end though it’s too late.

Mary Elizabeth Ellis and Cy Carter are effective and attractive as the superficially sane couple. Jimmi Simpson is appropriately spaced out as Dax’s addict brother. Michael O’Neill is convincing as Olive’s father mid way through dementia. Director Mo Perkins has the annoying tic of depicting time’s passing by fast motion. Otherwise he kept things running reasonably well. But it’s hard to identify with the protagonists or take away much from their situation  It’s equally hard to imagine any future for this film apart from the film festival circuit or the occasional showing at an art house. It sounds funnier than it plays.

The Flatland Film Festival ends tomorrow Oct 17. LHUCA shows films and houses other cultural events throughout the year.

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