Utopians: Berlin Review

Seriously off-the-wall U.S. indie about a trio of outsiders is ensnared in experimental foolery.


BERLIN -- (Forum) A confused, inconclusive film about a trio of misfits looking for a home, Utopians leaves much to be desired in the story credibility department. Director Zbigniew Bzymek, a video artist with experimental film and vid projects under his belt, tackles his first feature like it was a rehearsal of scenes in an actors' studio; the feeble connecting thread is a spaced-out yoga teacher whose eccentric vulnerability provides some wan appeal. This does not look like it will travel far beyond the Berlin Forum.

The film plays with audience disorientation from the opening scenes, in which Roger (Jim Fletcher), who talks to himself, picks up a soldier in desert fatigues at the airport. It comes as a surprise to learn that the soldier is a woman, Zoe (Courtney Webster), who is in love with a schizophrenic girl named Maya (Lauren Hind). Thanks to the confusing miscasting of the two female leads, the trio's relationship is never really clarified, or the reason Roger feels responsible for finding them all shelter.

He eventually succeeds in putting a roof over their heads, so to speak, when his old friend Morris (Arthur French) unwisely commissions him to remodel his middle-class home. Locking out the owner, Roger and co. take over the house, which becomes a theater for their moody psychodramas, staged like 1960s experimental theater.

Intrepid editing intercuts the house remodeling with involuntarily comic scenes of Roger attempting to teach yoga to a handful of students. When he brings a homeless pit bull to class, he is left with a single yogi. Fletcher, who looks like the only professional actor in the cast, brings a gravitas to Roger, depicting him as a hapless crazy of admirable moral stature who may or may not be a spiritually advanced person, though the odds are not.

Tech work on HDcam is interesting, particularly the use of sound mixing to build tension.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival, Forum
Production company: Made-up Language
Cast: Jim Fletcher, Courtney Webster, Lauren Hind, Arthur
French, Jessica Jelliffe, Sacha Yanow
Director: Zbigniew Bzymek
Screenwriter: Zbigniew Bzymek
Producers: Zbigniew Bzymek, Lauren Hind, Courteny Webster
Co-producers: Kevin Palmer, Talia Barrett
Director of photography: Robert Mleczko
Music: Harvey Valdes
Editor: Kevin Palmer
Sales Agent: Made-up Language
84 minutes