The signature of a Kelly Reichardt film is its spare exposition. She relies almost exclusively on behavior, on tight shots of facial tics, or the quick glance to the side, all an unspoken, connotative language signaling the character's detachment or discomfort or prevailing anxiety.
In her most recent film, "Night Moves," this ability to capture those moments and then extrapolate from them is evident as three people — Josh (Jesse Eisenberg), Dena (Dakota Fanning) and Harmon (Peter Sarsgaard) — set out to commit an act of eco-terrorism.
Their plan is to blow up a dam on Southern Oregon's Santiam River. The rationale is only briefly touched on.
Instead, what Reichardt reveals about the characters is accomplished through observing their deliberate and carefully planned actions: First they acquire a waterski boat, then purchase 500 pounds of ammonium nitrate, the purpose being to make a bomb of such power that it will bring down the dam.
There is not a moment in which they are stricken with self-doubt regarding this decision. At no time do they dwell on the impact of what they are about to do, other than to make vague statements about the necessity of bringing down this massive symbol, constructed to meet the needs of a consumer-driven society that has little if any regard for the environment or the spawning cycle of the local salmon.
What "Night Moves" creates is a state of underlying dread. The tension is quietly palpable; the apprehension embedded in what is about to occur is superimposed on every moment.
What occurs in the second half of the film represents a scaffolding of anxiety and guilt, for the three discover that there are unintended consequences inherent in any act of violence. And they begin to realize that guilt, etched with remorse, can be as consuming as the underlying fanaticism required to commit such a destructive an act. The characters deal with this reality, this weight, in their own way, which ultimately makes the film compelling.
Having said that, there is a moment just before the film concludes that is more than surprising, though it may be consistent with Josh's persona. He is consistently detached from those around him and from himself, absent anger and passion and a righteous commitment. If "Night Moves" is a signature Reichardt film, then Josh, lacking any internality, represents a signature Reichardt character.
There will be a 6 p.m. screening of "Night Moves" on Sunday, July 6, at the Varsity Theatre, followed by a talkback session with the film's producer Neil Kopp. He will offer an insider's view of the independent filmmaking process. Kopp's best-known film, made in collaboration with director Gus Van Sant, is "Paranoid Park." He also has produced all of Reichardt's critically acclaimed films, including "Old Joy," "Wendy and Lucy," and "Meek's Cutoff."
The debut film "Obvious Child," by writer/director Gillian Robespierre, is remarkable for its insight and its economy.
For those in the audience well-past 40, it may represent a kind of anthropological dig, one in which the layers of what it is like to be a twenty-something in this the second decade of the new millennium are peeled away.
At the center of the film is Donna Stern (Jenny Slate), an aspiring stand-up comedian, mid-20s, living in Brooklyn with her best friend, Nellie (Gabby Hoffman).
Suddenly, her life becomes a perfect storm of personal travail. Her boyfriend dumps her in the unisex bathroom of the nightclub where she appears. It's a scene that is a precursor to other moments of dissonance just ahead. While her now-ex is explaining that it's not her but him, men and women are entering and exiting the graffiti covered stalls; meanwhile, Donna is having an emotional meltdown.
Shortly thereafter, her boss tells her that the bookstore she works at (the unoppressive and anti-imperialist Bargain Books) will soon close.
On the rebound, Donna meets straight-looking Max (Jake Lacy) at the club, and after an incautious one-night-stand, she discovers she's pregnant.
The rest of the film is about resolution: how a young woman, still not fully formed, faces life's exigencies while feeling ill-prepared and decidedly at loose ends regarding her life. Although the issue about her pregnancy becomes a source of anguish, and requires her to make a profoundly important decision, this is not just a film about one woman having the freedom to choose.
The risk that "Obvious Child" takes is that it approaches the issue of abortion in a life-affirming manner — the life in question is Donna's, for it is she who understands that at this point in her life she is not ready to raise a child. In so many ways, Donna herself is still a child.
And so, absent shame or judgment, she moves forward.
One comment about language in movies: Profanity has, over decades, become ubiquitous. There was a time when Gable said, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn" and shocked audiences nationwide. We are no longer in Kansas. Words are used in "Obvious Child" that are confrontational, subversive, irreverent, steeped in sexuality, personal toilet habits and dysfunctional familial relationships. There are no areas of life, however personal, that seem off limits for the characters.
The baseline is full disclosure, as if this generation, steeped in reality television, Facebook, and Twitter, has little need for personal privacy. And epithets represent a kind of power and honesty and rebellion, even at the risk of seeming blatantly gratuitous.
"Obvious Child" is a small indie movie about a tenacious and seemingly irresolvable issue. To the film's credit, the manner in which it is presented represents a point of view, perhaps, but not an assumption.