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NEW YORK — Death hovers over Hide Your Smiling Faces — a phenomenon to be puzzled over and cautiously joked about by a group of adolescent boys even before it visits one of them unexpectedly. Instead of reaching for grand statements or concocting epiphanies for its protagonists, Daniel Patrick Carbone‘s arresting debut confronts mortality as its young characters do, obliquely and with confused emotions embodied convincingly by child actors Ryan Jones and Nathan Varnson. Though passed over in Tribeca’s juried competition for a more upbeat kid-centered film, Kim Mordaunt’s The Rocket, Faces earned some of the fest’s best word-of-mouth and would be well received at arthouses.
Jones and Varnson play Tommy and Eric, brothers living in a rural Northeastern community that is unnamed and, with no reference made to the internet or video games, deliberately untethered in time. It’s a place surrounded by wooded hills and decaying buildings, where boys (girls don’t seem to exist here, only mothers) can root around for detritus in brick ruins or sleep a night atop a bridge whose train tracks were torn up long ago. Here, a dead bird discovered in what used to be someone’s bedroom might be transformed into an action toy, or be the subject of an improvised anthem for untutored singers.
When elder brother Eric discovers Tommy’s friend Ian lying, dead, beneath a bridge, we watch as they and their friends process the fact that death is something that will happen to them as well. Though no one is in a hurry to ask whether it was a suicide, it seems to affect Ian’s friends the way suicides do: “Do you ever think about dying?,” Eric’s friend Tristan (Thomas Cruz) asks, and he’s not the last to feel a friend out about unspeakable thoughts. Ian’s father (Colm O’Leary) becomes a focal point for bad vibes, both menacing in grief and targeted in return. More bad news seems unavoidable, though the film doesn’t turn that possibility into suspense.
Carbone’s script doesn’t tell a story so much as watch the fluctuations in emotional energy here, quietly observing activities both directly and indirectly related to the loss. As a director he’s patient but never sluggish, taking time to appreciate the still landscapes his characters move through; Robert Donne’s electro-acoustic score suits those environments, its clouds of sound, like distant cicadas, turning constant action into the illusion of stasis. True to the code of older brothers, Eric continues to threaten Tommy with bodily harm; in just a few of these interactions, Faces illuminates some of the ways their world has changed.
Production Company: Flies Collective
Cast: Ryan Jones, Nathan Varnson, Colm O’Leary, Thomas Cruz, Christina Starbuck, Chris Kies, Andrew Chamberlain, Ivan Tomic, Clark Middleton, Annaliese Jorgensen-Lockhart
Director-Screenwriter-Editor: Daniel Patrick Carbone
Producers: Matthew Petock, Zachary Shedd, Daniel Patrick Carbone, Jordan Bailey-Hoover
Director of photography: Nick Bentgen
Production designer: Charlotte Royer
Music: Robert Donne
Sales: George Rush
No rating, 79 minutes
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