Noah, TheReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 03/24/15 13:49:28
(Worth A Look)
SCREENED AT THE 2015 BOSTON SCI-FI FILM FESTIVAL: Having an unusual life doesn't actually make a movie like "The Noah" better, but it undoubtedly makes pulling it out of obscurity a bit more exciting. One might be inclined to dismiss this post-apocalyptic art-house film as not one's thing, but to learn its history is to become a little curious: The director could have made it with Jack Lemmon but baled at both having a big start and shooting in color? It sat on the shelf for roughly eight years before playing two midnight shows and once again disappearing for decades? Even if this were a bad movie - which is not the case - a film fan really should give it a look when it surfaces in his or her area.It opens in the aftermath of cataclysm, with an American career soldier (Robert Strauss) making landfall at a deserted but fairly well-provisioned Chinese Army base. With no sign of any other human life, he sets up shop and gets into a routine. It is, of course, a lonely one, so it's not surprising that he soon invents companions for himself - and they appear to take on minds of their own.
Despite Noah's invention of other people to keep him company, the audience will spend much of the film watching him alone, with his "companions" present only as voice-over provided by Geoffrey Holder and Sally Kirkland (among others). The voice actors do their work somewhat more broadly than Robert Strauss, a hint that he has not exactly conjured complete individuals but characters with whom he can act out simple dramas, and it works, by and large: As much as the audience gets to watch interaction, there is never a feeling that Noah is anything but alone.
Strauss himself is fairly good as well. Writer/director Daniel Bourla did not make Noah a generic soldier but a fairly specific personality, and Strauss captures the carping of someone who is less a dedicated soldier than a man who used the service as a way to avoid planning his life between the immediate moment and retirement, consciously or not. It makes him less despairing than resentful, although Strauss generally manages to avoid making him more abrasive than the audience can stand. He also manages to capture how Noah creates personae not just for his imaginary friends, but for the part he envisions himself playing opposite them, and presenting it as both overlaid on top of his baseline self and who he is for the time being. It's a bit more theatrical than a modern audience might expect or necessarily like, but it doesn't feel entirely unnatural; why wouldn't one emote a bit more to people who aren't there?
That makes for a believable decent into madness, an impressive accomplishment on the one hand even if it does make for a rough time in the theater at others. It's a question of editing more than anything else - there isn't any particular scene or sequence that rings false, but only a few that feel absolutely essential to the story. Noah wins up back at a previous mental state a couple of times, and that feeling of going around in circles can try the patience of a viewer. Bourla and editor Angelo Ross are likely doing this at least partially on purpose, to get the audience to feel Noah's lack of direction and sensation of being trapped, but it's a thin line between sharing a character's frustration and having one's own directed at the movie, with The Noah likely to spend some time on the wrong side for many.
It looks and sounds good on either side of the line, reflecting how even films that have the appearance of being one- or two-person shows have a great many talented people behind the scenes. For example, there's no way to know if Bourla's insistence on shooting in black and white was the only right way to make this movie, but it's certainly one good way to go about it, hinting at a world with all life drained from it while still giving cinematographer Jerry Kalogeratos a more than ample palette to reflect Noah's changing view of the world. The sound work by Al Gramaglia is impressive as well, often creating a sort of war between the outside world, either silent or filled with the droning white noise of things like pouring rain, and the changing amount Noah creates to fill his own head.It's a nifty little film, but probably not a great one, if truth be told. After all, with rare exceptions, truly great movies don't get buried like this; someone will champion them at some point in the process. A rush of discovery and the feeling of having secret knowledge can enhance "pretty good" to a notch above that, though, so it's worth doing a little digging.
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