Etienne! -- Film Review

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LAS VEGAS -- Undeniably marching to the beat of its own drummer, "Etienne!" is an oddball charmer of a scrappy first feature by Jeff Mizushima.

Receiving a Filmmaker to Watch award from the jury at CineVegas, where it was the unofficial feel-good film of the fest, the ultralow-budget production centers on a timid hotel caretaker who takes his best friend -- a dwarf hamster named Etienne -- on a farewell bike trip along the Northern California coast after the beloved rodent is diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Really summoning up that late-'60s/early-'70s underground San Francisco zeitgeist, the film has the makings of a minor cult classic in the hands of the right hamster-loving distributor.
The film actually plays like a more innocent, G-rated version of 1968's "Candy," with the wide-eyed journey taken by soft-spoken man-child Richard (Richard Vallejos) and his pampered pocket pet.

Those colorful people Richard and Etienne encounter along the way include a sympathetic musician couple whose vehicle stalls on the way to a gig (Great Northern's Rachel Stolte and Solon Bixler) and a pinhole camera enthusiast (Caveh Zahedi).

Sure the performances by the cast of mainly nonactors aren't uniformly accomplished and the technical aspect is equally unsteady, but rather than being deficits, they, along with the inspired soundtrack, simply add to the film's scruffy, underdog appeal.

Venue: CineVegas
Cast: Richard Vallejos, Megan Harvey, Caveh Zahedi
Director-screenwriter-editor: Jeff Mizushima
Executive producers: Jeff Mizushima, Joshua H. Miller, Tim Jackson, Reiko Kondo
Producers: Giacun Caduff, Joel David Moore, Jeremy Boreing, Kurt Schemper
Directors of photography: Tim van der Linden, Eric Kim, Jeff Mizushima
Music: Mark Bachle
No rating, 88 minutes
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