Tower: Locarno Review

Tower - film still
  Slight character study set in suburban Toronto

Young Canadian director’s debut offers an unflinching snapshot of an awkward loner.

LOCARNO - One man’s life of quiet desperation is examined in forensic detail in this first feature from the young Canadian writer-director Kazik Radwanski. Shot in the same intimate semi-documentary style that defined the director’s previous handful of shorts, the film had its world premiere at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland last week ahead of its North American debut in Radwanski’s native Toronto next month.

Indie dramas like Tower are often wish-fulfilment fantasies for film-maker and audience alike, building up their nerdy protagonists into closet superheroes or heroically sensitive outsiders. But Radwanski seems uninterested in courting audience sympathy, creating a low-voltage character study that has the authentic texture of everyday life, but lacks emotional punch or dramatic originality. Future prospects beyond festival screenings and Canuck-friendly arthouse circles will most likely be limited.

The unappetising anti-hero of this slight story is Derek (Bogart), a 34-year-old caught between the belated end of adolescence and the overdue dawn of adulthood. Still living with his eternally patient parents in suburban Toronto, Derek does part-time construction work for his uncle, but his chief passion is the Shrek-like digital animation he is creating at painfully slow speed on his home computer. At weekends, he searches for love in the city’s nightclubs, mostly without luck. One day he finds himself dating a semi-serious girlfriend, Nicole (Fairbairn), which only makes him more awkward and uncomfortable. Their relationship, inevitably, does not last.

Radwanski and Bogart are not afraid to show Derek’s unpleasant qualities: he is socially inept yet pompous in company, desperate for love but callous to girlfriends, full of artistic ambition but dismissive towards family friends who kindly offer help with his budding career. However, one of the key problems with Tower is that Derek is neither exceptionally sympathetic nor unsympathetic, nor indeed much of anything. He is charmless, but harmless, with a life is so devoid of drama that it would scarcely merit a short film. It takes a great alchemist to transform such uneventful suburban banality into big-screen gold, not a first-time director still making baby steps.

Tower does have some saving graces, notably its undertow of dry humour and a cast full of capable, subtle, naturalistic performers. Bogart is a fine deadpan comedian, his blank expression conveying years of accumulated disappointment and passive-aggressive anger. His face appears in almost every shot, mostly in jittery hand-held close-up, and yet his perpetually baffled frown never becomes boring. Bigger, greater roles than this await him. The anti-climactic finale in which Derek confronts a raccoon inside his parental home is both hilarious and surreal.

But Bogart’s oddball charisma alone is not enough to save Tower from its wilfully listless, lackadaisical tone. Radwanski has many of the right ingredients for a decent dark comedy or left-field drama here, but much like his main character, he lacks focus or direction. He has technique and talent, but falls short on content. His next film needs to add flesh to this sketchy, insubstantial formula.

Venue: Locarno Film Festival screening, August 9
Production company: Medium Density Fibreboard Films
Cast: Derek Bogart, Nicole Fairbairn, Deborah Sawyer, John Scholl
Director: Kazik Radwanski
Producer: Daniel Montgomery
Writer: Kazik Radwanski
Cinematography: Daniel Voshart, Richard Williamson
Editor: Ajla Odobasic
Sales company: Medium Density Fibreboard Films
Rating TBC, 78 minutes