'Actor Martinez': Tribeca Review

Courtesy of Adam J. Minnick
It's so meta that it collapses in on itself.

A Denver computer repairman enlists a pair of indie filmmakers to make a movie about him in this documentary/fiction hybrid.

The thin line between reality and artifice is explored to highly stultifying effect in Nathan Silver and Mike Ott's documentary/fiction hybrid concerning a nebbishy computer repairman who wants to be a film actor. Exuding a constant air of self-congratulation in its Kiarostami-inspired blending of fact and fiction designed to make the viewer as complicit in the proceedings as the filmmakers and their hapless subject, Actor Martinez raises plenty of questions. The problem is that none of them are particularly interesting. The pic recently received its North American premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The titular figure is Arthur Martinez, a pudgy, part-time actor who dreams of bigger things. To that end, he enlists the services of acclaimed indie directors Silver (Stinking Heaven) and Ott (Lake Los Angeles) — playing themselves, natch — to create a feature film revolving around him. You won't be surprised to learn that things don't go exactly as planned.

For one thing, Arthur and his collaborators have very different ideas about what kind of film to make. The former, looking to hit the big time and posturing himself as a "cold-hearted marketing guy," wants to make a genre film, something commercial. The directors, thinking in more artistic terms, shift the project toward an intimately personal portrait of their subject, who, based on what we see here, doesn't exactly merit the attention.

The movie thus follows Arthur as he socializes at an indie filmmaker function; does a tai chi workout; hangs out with friends; and frequently indulges in the legal marijuana so readily available in the area. But things get murkier when the filmmakers attempt to cast the role of his girlfriend. The first actress doesn't work out — "Tell him to wipe his upper lip," she advises them after he plants a surprise kiss on her — so they recruit indie actress Lindsay Burdge (currently seen in The Invitation), mostly because they feel her resemblance to Arthur's ex-wife will make him uncomfortable.

And speaking of uncomfortable, that's the word best used to describe the attractive actress when she's suddenly told by the directors, "We're gonna do a sex scene," instructing Arthur to "take her top off."

"Um, uh, what kind of sex scene?" the flustered Burdge asks, with a look of panic on her face. The ensuing sequence is, needless to say, extremely awkward for everyone concerned, although Arthur at least acts like a gentleman, repeatedly assuring his co-star that she needn't do the scene if she doesn't want to.

How much of this is real and how much is contrived? Is Martinez in on the joke, or is he the butt of the filmmakers'? Did Burdge know what she was getting into? How much of the proceedings are scripted, and how much are improvised? The response to all of these questions is, really, who cares?

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Viewpoints)
Production: Mary Jane Films
Cast: Lindsay Burdge, Arthur Martinez, Nathan Silver, Mike Ott, Kenneth Berba, Rae Radka
Directors-screenwriters: Nathan Silver, Mike Ott
Producers: Britta Erickson, Katie Shapiro, Patrick Hackett, Heika Burnison
Executive producers: Monika DeWitt, Terry L. Ganey
Director of photography: Adam J. Minnick
Production designer: Grace Sloan
Editor: Gerald D.Rossini
Composer: Paul Grimstad
Casting: Nicole Arbusto

Not rated, 75 minutes