LAFF 2007: Low-Rent, High Yield

Have you ever seen a movie that you really liked, but realized you couldn’t recommend it to anybody you know because they’ll probably all hate it?

I’ve been pegged as a contrarian before, but a lot of the time I’m genuinely surprised when people can’t see the merits of a film that I really dig. However, in the case of BUILD A SHIP, SAIL TO SADNESS, I totally get why many will hate it, and why so many walked out during the festival screening.

Picture Borat crossed with The Brown Bunny, minus any nudity. Got that? Now imagine the worst visual quality imaginable — the movie was actually shot on Hi-8 and transferred to 16mm, but it looks like it was shot on VHS and left unplayed in a closet for ten years. This is deliberate, but ugly as hell, and a major gamble with jaded audiences.


Didn’t help matters that this was screened in the Italian Cultural Center, which has one of the most poorly designed screening rooms ever. With very little slope on the floor, the screen is hung high on the wall, so most viewers will have to look upward, even if they’re not in the front row. Sitting in the back gives one a decent perspective, and legroom, but it also puts you smack-dab in visual range of the back door, which opens for latecomers and floods the room with light. Then when they walk out during the movie, it does so again. Latecomers should be dealt with harshly. Especially those who dawdle in the aisles, blocking everyone’s view and way.

Magnus Aronson, apparently a Scandinavian musician in real life, is Vincent, a young man traveling through small mountain towns in Scotland trying to sell the locals on the idea of a mobile disco, which he thinks will be a cure for loneliness — “I’m a bit like a doctor, coming to heal people…I’m not a saint, I’m just like a repairman.” The locals are real, and in their tight-knit community don’t feel lonely at all, so they don’t get it at all (one might suspect they were duped a la Borat, but in fact, all knew what was up — they just didn’t know what Magnus was going to say or do).

In between interactions with locals, we get long shots of Vincent on the moped, periodically stopping and passing out on the side of the road, or huffing gas from his own tank, and saying things like, “You know what, mother nature, I have a few complaints. First of all, you’re too dirty, and secondly, you’re too cold.” Vincent also treats us to some of his absurdly pathos-laden songs, which were apparently the original inspiration for the movie. Writer-director Laurin Federlein claims he originally intended to make a tragic, moving piece about finding beauty in the pathetic, but Magnus took it in a whole other direction.

Despite the apparent ugliness and sloppiness of the piece, there’s a real gem of inspiration at the core, and the character of Vincent is wonderful. I sort of have a feeling that if one could talk in “objective” terms about art, this movie might be a bad one by the standard criteria. So proceed with caution, but if you like really deadpan character humor, and can laugh at endless absurd repetitions, give it a go.

At 68 minutes, the movie’s about the right length. Lord only knows if it’ll ever find an audience, but Ti West later told me it was his favorite film at the fest so far.

I'm seeing Transformers tonight. Consider me an optimist, primed.

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