Upstate -- Film Review

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A low-budget indie drama nearly devoid of dramatic developments, "Upstate" meanders uncertainly through its slight 80-minute running time, ending up pretty much back where it started.

Festivals offer the best prospect for further exposure, though niche play is a possibility in New York markets. The film recently had its world premiere in narrative competition at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

"Upstate" centers on Liz (Iracel Rivero), an emotionally scarred New Yorker in her early 30s, on a trip up north to visit Steve (Max Arnaud). A formerly close friend she hasn't seen in two years, he now is married to Sylvia (Suzan Mikiel Kennedy), a somewhat older woman. The couple lives in a cozy rural home, where they run a business importing handicrafts from Central America.

Most of the first hour is filled with getting-acquainted pleasantries as Liz meets Sylvia and catches up with Steve. Visits to a county fair and a Shaker museum barely advance the plot, and it isn't until about the midpoint when they're alone on a hike that Liz and Steve revisit their mostly platonic relationship and begin to genuinely re-bond. Their absence raises Sylvia's suspicions, however, leading to a tense confrontation with Liz that quickly dissipates with some good-natured pot smoking. The inconclusive denouement omits any definitive incidents as Liz returns to the city.

It's difficult to imagine screenwriter Katherine Nolfi's intent with the unrelentingly slow-paced, low-key narrative. Character arcs and plot developments are so flat that they don't generate much of a story line beyond an unremarkable slice-of-life. The actors' performances are too understated to break the pall of inertia.

Nolfi and co-director Andrew Luis seem just as tentative with the camera, handling setups with offhand informality and noticeably missing their marks with out-of-focus shots. And though the Super 16mm format enhances some almost-lyrical scenes of the Catskills region shot with available light, the aesthetic adds little to a drama that barely gets started before it's over.

Venue: Los Angeles Film Festival
Production: Ground Glass Works
Cast: Iracel Rivero, Max Arnaud, Suzan Mikiel Kennedy, Ligia Castillo, Robert Mercado, Kimani Shilligford
Directors: Andrew Luis, Katherine Nolfi
Screenwriter: Katherine Nolfi
Producers: Melanie Pimentel, Katherine Nolfi, Andrew Luis
Executive producer: Jennifer Fox
Directors of photography: Brian Feeney, Andrew Luis, Katherine Nolfi
Editors: Katherine Nolfi, Andrew Luis, Ben Brown. No rating, 80 minutes
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