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3 reviews, 3 user ratings

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by Erik Childress

"Break-Ups Need No Translators"
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: Eric Bylerís debut feature, Charlotte Sometimes, was a rich and nuanced examination of Asian-American relationships. The fact that the characters were of a lineage other than Caucasian should be irrelevant, but we bring it up because such films are unique in an industry that believes white people are the only ones who have their hearts broken. I tend not to view through such narrow-rimmed glasses and use race as some dividing line between what works on screen and what doesnít. When I see film after film made by dunderheads who have probably never been in a serious relationship, or more pointedly Ė understood Ė what such a commitment entails, it disrespects the true nature of what it is to love. Byler was just warming up with Charlotte and somewhere deep down not only gets people but how filmmaking can translate that to those who donít.

Raymond (Chris Tashima) and Aurora (Allison Sie) are putting their relationship to rest. The details are sketchy to us at first, but like many relationships, compatibility has become a factor down the road. He is a few years her senior, previously divorced and as a college professor has deep seethed feelings about the cultural identity of Asian-Americans; something Aurora, the product of mixed parents has rarely had to encounter for her ability to pass as white. Each has the requisite best friend (Michael Paul Chan & Kelly Hu) now free to vehemently voice their disapproval of the otherís mate and assign blame to placate the loss in their lives.

Raymond is stubborn when it comes to his social beliefs and harbors the universal code of being unable to let go of what he truly cares about. This leads him to casually spend time in the home he shared with Aurora while sheís away. Itís not much of a shock to her when she calls and hears Rayís voice on her line. Instead of reacting angrily, she accepts this as part of the healing period and allows it to continue. Her friend, Brenda (Hu) is less sympathetic and views every one of his actions as a way to either come on to her or confuse Aurora. But as he eloquently puts, of everything they both do in the time being, ďit all hurts

Itís this curative process which Byler captures so eloquently not with words or the solid performances of his cast, but in a brand of motioned silence that sways the characters in their downtime from confronting their feelings. The kind of grand sweeping statements about love and loss are sidestepped in favor of capturing the mood, both exterior and interior, the way Yasujiro Ozu might have. In no way am I suggesting that Bylerís style infringes as a sort of auteuristic posturing pushing out the characters or the story to prove what he can do with a camera. Quite the contrary, Byler molds the silence into the fray and enlightens every sentence with an authenticity thatís all too rare in cinematic dealings with the most precious of emotions.

Americanese is about a break-up but also about so much more, slowly peeling away old layers but never discarding them so Raymond and Auroraís motives, past and future, become clearer without ever registering as false. When Raymond is given a picture in the final scene, the choice he reaches is an agonizing one, but one which is easy to accept for us, having made the journey to that decision with him. The 2006 film festival circuit has already produced one great relationship dissolution with Flannel Pajamas at Sundance and now the South by Southwest festival was wise enough to debut the very first print struck of Americanese. An honorable mention is certainly due on Collin Souterís list of the great break-up films, but even moreso to be discovered by audiences without having to wait around for another of Roger Ebertís Overlooked Film Festivals (where Charlotte Sometimes received a special screening a few years ago.) Eric Byler is the real deal, no matter what point of view you feel heís coming from.

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originally posted: 03/21/06 04:20:37
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2006 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/16/06 Maitreya Gabeler Truly Exceptional 5 stars
4/03/06 literallyjohn great ensemble and beautiful adaption of the novel 5 stars
3/31/06 Soha Molina good movie 4 stars
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Directed by
  Eric Byler

Written by
  Eric Byler

  Chris Tashima
  Allison Sie
  Joan Chen
  Kelly Hu
  Ben Shenkman
  Sab Shimono

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