Tribeca 2015: Inconclusive Confusion Abound at 'The Driftless Area' World Premiere

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Alia Shawkat and Anton Yelchin

Anton Yelchin stars as a bartender who returns home after his parents' death and becomes entangled with a mysterious young woman (Zooey Deschanel) and a violet criminal (John Hawkes).

"What happens to Pierre is not a normal story — it ends in violence and starts with a mistake." So begins The Driftless Area, a neo-noir, darkly romantic drama-comedy based on Tom Drury’s novel and directed by Zachary Sluser, which had its world premiere Saturday night at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival.

The film — which stars Anton Yelchin as Pierre, a young bartender who returns home after the death of his parents and becomes simultaneously entangled with a mysterious young woman (Zooey Deschanel) and a violet criminal (John Hawkes) — is, according to Alia Shawkat, who plays Pierre’s childhood best friend, "a hard one to describe. "It's ethereal and asks a lot of bigger questions about life and reality and morality. … To tell you the truth, I’m kind of lost as well!" she told The Hollywood Reporter on the red carpet before the premiere, held at BMCC Tribeca PAC. "It’s a story that doesn’t necessarily give you all the answers."

The story onscreen may be somber, but the mood during production was less serious. To prepare for the role, Yelchin bartended a couple nights at Joey Burrard, a restaurant in Vancouver where the movie was shot, often for the cast and crew. While Yelchin doesn’t drink alcohol — "My go-to drink is soda," he told THR — he learned to make a roster of complicated cocktails, including an elaborate drink topped with frosting. "You put a scoop of this, with a scoop of this icy, slushy shit. … People loved those things!"

Despite the supernatural darkness and bloody violence that courses through the film, "there’s a modern fairy-tale aspect to it, along with a '50s love ballad vibe," said composer Danny Bensi, who wrote the score with Saunder Jurriaans. "Ultimately it’s a love story. It’s a story about everlasting, undying love."

So would it make a good date movie? "Yeah, totally!” Jurriaans said, a sentiment enthusiastically endorsed by both Sluser and Drury, who adapted the screenplay together. Shawkat wasn't as sure, but said, "I do think it makes people think about what love really is. … How long does it carry on for and how much meaning does it give us in this lifetime?"

And for Saturday Night Live’s Beck Bennett and Hindsight’s Jessy Hodges, the premiere served as an actual date night, and neither knew what to expect going in. Sluser hopes audiences maintain that particular level of uncertainty, even after seeing the film.

"If I left here, and everyone wanted to think about it, I would go to sleep so happy tonight," Sluser said of the ending during the post-screening Q&A. "Please think. We wanted audiences to think."

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