It's OK to utilize the dream card in screenwriting when it can be used for something as worthwhile as Mitchellville. Usually this card, which is now about a dozen of the 52 in the deck, is like the joker. It's an easy way to form a hand with a non-existent card that's supposed to be taken out of the shuffle to begin with. The dream is used to play with time, twist-up the audience or simply used for cheap scares ad nauseum (otherwise known as DePalma-ed To Death.) Director John D. Harkrider isn't interested in any of that, choosing instead to play the card with all the grace of an old-school poker player.The film opens with Gabriel Williamson (director Harkrider) speaking to a psychiatrist assigned to assess his worth as a potential partner in his Wall Street firm. On the job he's tough and pulls no punches when slamming home a six million dollar deal. Off it, he speaks lovingly of his wife (the stunningly beautiful Anna Lodej) whom he recalls meeting in a beautiful childhood courtship right out of When Harry Met Sally. â€œShe looked like a princess from a faraway land," he says.
During his sessions, he relays an ongoing dream. It involves an old jazz musician (Herb Lovelle) whom he goes to take flute lessons from. The man is suicidal, seemingly having nothing in his life left but his potted flowers and the photographs that grace his apartment. They speak of a place called Mitchellville in South Carolina, an all-black community where a horrible wrong was once committed and swept under the carpet.
Harkrider's screenplay makes no secret that what we're seeing in these scenes are pure fiction amalgamated from Gabrielâ's memories. They contain clues to his own past and signify a present that leaves him unsure of where he wants his life to continue. The psychology of dreams and the representation of various images and places are laid out on the table, but still holds a few secrets for some jarring discoveries. Who is that man trailing Gabriel in his dreams? What is the significance of the Asian writing, the screensaver and the Creole slang? If you speak it, you may just know what Mitchellville is going for.
This is a beautiful looking film complements of a pair of cinematographers (Soopum Sohn & Barron Claiborne) who match the intimate and dreamlike hazes with visions of the past and a sterile future. Harkrider offers a sympathetic portrait of a man lost between a bulldozer professional personality and the boy he once was. Lovelle (a drummer who has performed with B.B. King & Bob Dylan) is extraordinary as the film's variety of wisdom. Everytime he stops to tell a story, time almost stops and we listen attentively like eager schoolchildren. Michael Voyer is also terrific in a dual role as Gabrielâ's therapist and the representation of his soulless, manipulative boss in the dreams.Mitchellville dips its feet in the water of several provocative subjects and Harkrider is to be commended for cramming the corners in less than 80 minutes. Themes of class structure and the way forms of art define our collective history all merge into a story that intrigues and ultimately moves us in a way we could never expect. This is a film which urges a second viewing to capture all of its secrets. It doesn't toy with and doubleback its audience into a corner like the later works of David Lynch and Brian DePalma are prone to do. It rewards us with a solution, but never plays like it's exclusively about catching us off-guard. Mitchellville is a thoughtful, intellectual work that treats its audience as such and marks John D. Harkrider as a filmmaker to look forward to.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 CineVegas Film Festival. For more in the 2004 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Atlanta Film Festival For more in the 2005 Atlanta Film Festival series, click here.