'Leave the Bus Through the Broken Window': Film Review | SXSW 2019

Courtesy of SXSW
An introspective travelogue that loses its way.

'Moonlight' co-producer Andrew Hevia shot this experimental first-person documentary during the 2016 Art Basel fair in Hong Kong.

A DIY meditation on art, commerce and estrangement, Leave the Bus Through the Broken Window follows filmmaker Andrew Hevia on a flubbed expedition to chronicle Hong Kong’s annual Art Basel fair. Searching for contacts and authentic experiences, Hevia — whose credits include co-producing the Oscar-winning Moonlight — instead winds up living in a 40-square-foot cubicle and wandering the city completely alone, trying his best to make connections in an unwelcoming land.

Whether such happenings make for a captivating movie is another matter, and Bus strains to retain interest despite a contracted running time (of 68 minutes) and a subject matter that has incited more memorable documentaries, including the similarly titled Exit Through the Gift Shop and the recent The Price of Everything.

Not that Hevia ever set out to make an art world exposé, and even if he did he’s honest about the fact that it didn’t exactly work out. But his musings on creation, capitalism, his love life and the alienation one feels abroad are not particularly eye-opening. Most of the time you get the sense he’s just shooting stuff at random — sometimes quite well, capturing the city’s excessive, fleeting beauty — then trying to add context to his footage in the edit room. It’s not really enough for a feature, and despite a bow at SXSW it’s hard to see Bus traveling far beyond the festival circuit.

“You are here to make a film,” a voiceover repeats several times, its computer-generated monotone accompanying handheld images captured on HD video. “Why did you think this was a good idea?” “You have a camera and nothing else.”

Such self-deprecating statements set the tone for Hevia’s forlorn voyage to HK, where the Miami native arrives on a Fullbright grant to document one of Asia’s biggest contemporary art fairs. Right away his plans go awry: The apartment he rents is the size of a closet; the American artist he was hoping to document disses him after their very first rendezvous at the airport; and none of the locals are willing to help him out.

Perhaps the problem is Hevia doesn’t seem to know what he’s looking for. His project sorely lacks an angle, unless the angle is the fact he doesn’t have one. But even that idea grows tiring pretty fast, with the director then turning the camera on himself to ruminate about a recent breakup and other failed amorous adventures — including one with a Ukrainian expat he meets in his building (cue slow-motion shots of girls with their hair blowing in the wind). Or else he makes a few rather obvious remarks about Hong Kong, such as the fact that it’s been overrun by shopping malls. 

The film’s best parts take us inside the Art Basel bubble, which the director seems to rather mockingly depict, following around a shy young artist who turns out to be quite the social climber, an ultra-rich collector in search of the next big thing and an opening-day conference for the elites. (“This is a Very Important Person in a room filled with Very Important People,” the voiceover drones.) At one point, Bus launches into a karaoke pop parody song whose lyrics include lines like: “How to position myself in the hierarchy of art?/I don’t want to beg people for the opportunity!”

Taking pot shots at the contemporary art scene has become common practice nowadays (see Netflix’s recent Velvet Buzzsaw), so it’s too bad Hevia didn’t carry his study beyond such broad observations. For instance, he could have probed deeper into the Asian art world to see how local creators have been affected by the soaring prices of contemporary work. Or he could have delved further into other subjects, such as the lives of the Filipino foreign guest workers he crosses paths with at one point.

Instead, Leave the Bus through the Broken Window tends to stay on the surface of its surroundings, offering a tourist’s-eye view of a place that Hevia only really gets to know through his camera, which he keeps rolling at all times. The results are never quite on par with the filmmaker’s intentions, however unclear they may have been, and at the end you’re left wondering if that’s actually Hong Kong’s fault, or his.

Production company: One Eight Five Films
Director-screenwriter: Andrew Hevia
Producers: Andrew Hevia, Carlos David Rivera
Executive producers: Bonnie Chan Woo, Dennis Scholl
Director of photography: Andrew Hevia
Editor: Carlos David Rivera
Composers: Gavin Brivik, Sam Crawford
Venue: SXSW Film Festival (Visions)
Sales: One Eight Five Films

68 minutes