The International Sign for Choking: AFI Fest Review

Less is less in this slight, overly affected indie feature.

Zach Weintraub’s sophomore feature co-stars multi-hyphenate Sophia Takal.

Hipster cool shifts to Buenos Aires to no apparent advantage in Zach Weintraub’s second feature, a lightweight narrative that should find further play among other navel-gazers on the festival circuit while theatrical distribs give it a wide berth.

Weintraub casts himself as Josh, a geeky, stocking cap-wearing American videographer on some nebulous sort of assignment in Argentina. A fluent Spanish speaker, his actual plan is to try to reconnect with ex-girlfriend Martina, who’s gone dark -- for perhaps obvious reasons. In the process of listlessly seeking appropriate locations or subjects to shoot, Josh meets Anna (Sophia Takal), a mostly monolingual student visiting from the States, who’s living next door in his rooming house.

Despite their similar inability to comfortably relate to people around them and a marked inarticulateness, Josh and Anna somehow fall into a tenuous relationship that’s constantly tested by his insecurities and her growing interest in a local musician.

Whether a lack of imagination or limited resources convinced Weintraub to assume both filmmaking and acting roles, he doesn’t appear to have the wherewithal to adequately fill either. Despite some artful framing and atmospheric lighting captured with the imaginative assistance of DP Nandan Rao, Weintraub’s visual vocabulary is noticeably limited, a situation that’s not improved by a refusal to take advantage of the attributes of the South American setting. The remarkably conflict-free script rarely gains traction, despite attempts to grab attention with chaste make-out and sex scenes between the principals.

Weintraub proves no more memorable as an actor than as a director, with big puppy-dog eyes and shoulder-caving sighs substituting for any actual emoting. Filmmaker-performer Takal’s more extensive acting experience can’t manage to raise the level of the game much, limited as she is by the feeble script.

By the time the film arrives at an ending, though hardly a conclusion, audience engagement may appear as thoroughly dissipated as the characters’ motivations.

Venue: AFI Fest

Production company: Newhard Entertainment

Cast: Zach Weintraub, Sophia Takal, Roger Delahaye, Barbara Cameron, Mariano Blanco, Ximena Brun, Ezequiel Etcheverry

Director/screenwriter: Zach Weintraub
Producer: Bradley Smith
Director of photography: Nandan Rao
Editor: Zach Weintraub
Music: Ernesto Carcamo

Not Rated, 80 minutes