'One & Two': Berlin Review

A walk in the woods that never arrives anywhere

Two teenagers and their parents live alone on an isolated farm, cut off from time and the outside world, in Andrew Droz Palermo’s debut feature shot in North Carolina

Disparate influences percolate but never quite cohere in Andrew Droz Palermo’s first narrative feature One & Two, which while atmospheric and beautifully lensed ends up being a touch too elliptical for its own good. Part pastoral idyll, part nascent superhero story and part fable, it’s a film of bold parts that sit uneasily side by side. Making its American debut at SXSW in March, the film’s central conceit borrows something from M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, though the payoff to this particular mystery never quite materializes.

Siblings Zac (Interstellar’s Timothée Chalamet) and Eva (Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka) live with their father Daniel (Grant Bowler) and mother Elizabeth (Elizabeth Reaser) on a farm that is Amish in all but name – a white wooden house with no electricity, a horse-drawn buggy, daily prayer. There are no neighbors in sight, possibly because a giant wall rings the surrounding countryside. As Eva says, in a voiceover that has to do a little too much heavy lifting: “My father said it was built to keep us safe. But I think it was meant to keep us in”. In the evenings the pair take a load off by teleporting to the woods and lake. That’s right: teleporting.

Gifted cinematographer Autumn Cheyenne Durald’s (Palo Alto) dusky images and shallow depth of field recalls Roger Deakins’ work on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and the lyrical, prelapsarian world she evokes is the last place you expect to see teenagers apparating at will. Droz Palermo’s introduction of genre elements is original and startling in equal measure, not least because the film could be a period piece for much of its first half.

Daniel is convinced that his children’s powers are making his wife ill, and as her condition worsens so does his need for retribution. Whether his anger is justified or not is left ambiguous. Eva teleports a fallen bird back to its nest but in doing so kills it. Soon she’s banished beyond the wall, and One & Two takes off in another direction, with Eva waking up in a hospital and then landing in a children’s shelter. The digression recalls the director’s Missouri-set documentary Rich Hill, which won last year's Sundance Grand Jury Prize for Documentary, about three teenagers living on the bread-line in the filmmaker’s hometown. The gesture toward the topic here, however, is just that. Eva gets in a scrap in the cafeteria and before we know it she’s hit the road again, hot-footing it back to the homestead.

Alex O’Flinn (A Girl Walks Home at Night) as editor has his work cut out during this section, toggling back and forth between Eva on the lam and Zac and Daniel back at the farm. Nathan Halpern’s moody score helps to paper over the joins, but the bifurcation of the film’s narrative can’t help but make it sag. Chalamet and Shipka are both very fine, though the recessive script by Droz Palermo and his co-writer Neima Shadadi makes it difficult to really get a handle on their characters.

As the father, Kiwi-Australian actor Bowler has the hardest role, and the one whose conception is the most problematic. Gruff and hulking, he makes for an utterly convincing father-as-zealot. The problem is that we never work out what his zealotry consists of. Why does he cut his family off from the rest of the world, or send Eva away, or lock his son in a cupboard for days on end? I haven’t the foggiest. Shorn of any glimmer of ideology, his interior life is hopelessly remote from us. Daniel is a puzzle, but not a satisfying one.

As the title suggests, One & Two is ultimately about the unbreakable bond between a brother and sister. A modern parable about the difficulty of growing up and becoming independent, the film offers a solution that is ruthless but inevitable. If they screw you up, your mom and dad, why not devour them? In the end, Zac and Eva break the bonds of the past by watching it burn together.

Production companies: Bow & Arrow Entertainment, Protagonist Films

Cast:Timothée Chalamet, Kiernan Shipka, Grant Bowler, Elizabeth Reaser

Director: Andrew Droz Palermo

Screenplay:Andrew Droz Palermo, Neima Shahdadi

Producers: Kimberly Sherman, Matthew Perniciaro, Michael Sherman

Director of Photography: Autumn Cheyenne Durald

Editors: Alex O’Flinn

Sales: Protagonist Pictures, WME Global

 

No rating, 90 minutes

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