Joy de V.: Slamdance Review

Weirdly existential mystery is long on mood, short on coherence.

Nadia Szold's debut follows a man whose pregnant wife has disappeared.

PARK CITY -- Allegories and influences pile up but don't add up in Joy de V., a quasi-mystery whose protagonist, a New York would-be wiseguy, hunts for a wife who has disappeared mysteriously. Nadia Szold's feature debut might earn some admirers on the fest circuit for its atmospheric evocations of decades-old arthouse fare, but few will find its journey fulfilling in the end.

Evan Louison wears a retro pompadour and a vaguely Mob-like swagger as Roman, a New Yorker living off petty scams and mental-disability checks; when the latter are jeopardized, he worries he's "gotta do something crazy" with plenty of witnesses around. But before he can manufacture a freakout, he has something real to contend with: Joy, the girlfriend he married after getting her pregnant, has vanished just a couple of months before their child is due.

Roman's search takes him through precincts of NYC both famous (the East Village) and rarely visited (Staten Island), and Szold's vision of the city is unrepentantly anachronistic: Italian-Americans predominate throughout, making small talk suitable for a '70s Scorsese or Cassavetes knockoff.

Szold's affectations are endearing for a while, helped by Tristan Allen's shadow-rich photography and a score heavy on jazzy percussion. But the film grows more prosaic in daylight scenes, the narrative breaking up into a series of dead-end encounters that work harder on eccentric local color than on the movie's overall themes. The appearance of Claudia Cardinale as an elderly Italian haunted by her membership in Fascist youth groups sheds little light on the film's philosophy; a willfully ambiguous climax offers the look and feel of art cinema without its payoff.


Production Company: Cinema Imperfecta

Cast: Evan Louison, Josephine de La Baume, Iva Gocheva, Claudia Cardinale, Rocco Sisto, Victoria Imperioli, Biagio Pergolizzi

Director-Screenwriter-Producer: Nadia Szold

Director of photography: Tristan Allen

Production designer: Sanna Choe Lund

Music: Noah Plotkin, John Prince

Costume designer: Sylvia Grieser

Editor: Kristen Swanbeck

No rating, 84 minutes