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Berlinale 2017 – Golden Exits

Golden Exits (Alex Ross Perry, 2017)

Slowly we’re brought into a film through in-between spaces; Brooklyners out for their afternoon strolls lit by near-‘golden hour’ evening light underscored by leisurely relaxing piano notes which unfurl with calm and a lingering hint of mystery. The film is Golden Exits, the fifth feature by 32-year-old American independent wunderkind director Alex Ross Perry.

‘Indie’ or ‘Independent’ is a word that gets thrown around an awful lot in the arts these days. And qualifying for the term is not necessarily equivalent to an absence of stars or financial funding. It refers instead to a maneuvering around the big studio system and hints at a limiting of ultimate creative control to a singular locus. The films of Alex Ross Perry are unquestionably independent. He not only advocates but has actively written about the affordability and merits of shooting on 16mm film for virtually any independent film with a budget greater than none (one cited merit is to keep the format alive as a viable option for future filmmakers).

After the blackly comic narcissism of Listen Up Philip and the intense psycho-drama-thriller Queen of Earth, Golden Exits is familiar but far from expected. It is Perry perhaps at his most human, and certainly at his most calm. Focused on human relations and (unsurprisingly as Perry himself was wed last year) marriage. The marriage at the forefront of the narrative is between Nick (Adam Horovitz of Beastie Boys fame) and Alyssa (Chloë Sevigny of general fame), and the strain placed on it by his new hiring of Naomi (Emily Browning), a young Australian, as his archiving assistant. To complicate things further, the project for which she’s being hired is the archiving of Alyssa’s recently-deceased father’s memorabilia. Alyssa’s sister Gwendolyn (Mary-Louise Parker) makes her disapproval for both choices known from the opening scene. Naomi’s appearance also begins to strain a second marriage when she gets in touch with Buddy (Jason Schwartzman), a family friend she hasn’t seen in years, who is clearly surprised to find himself so attracted to her given his own recently-acquired marital status and the fact that he hadn’t seen Naomi since she was a child. While the narrative seems at first to lean in favor of focus on the ‘damaged male psyches’ of Nick and Buddy, it moves its way to the female side of things as Naomi begins to recognize the unwanted effect she seems to have on the men in her life and her own leanings for want of a way out, her own personal ‘golden exit,’ if you will.

Having previously cited authors Philip Roth and Thomas Pynchon as major influences (his debut film Impolex takes largely after Gravity’s Rainbow) and given the amount of words his characters usually have to share, the loquacious nature of conversations in Golden Exits are hardly surprising, but the smoothness with which he pulls them off this time around are impressive. This sense of smoothness pervades the entirety of the film, as the title seems to refer to smooth getaways (real or yearned for); from relationships as well as general tumult.

Amidst all the human relations, golden, soft, hazy, and slightly unfocused exterior shots interrupt briefly to see day make its transition into night. Keegan DeWitt’s soundtrack takes turns swirling and stirring, mostly to soothe and occasionally to spin. All of the elements work together in stretching toward a tonal tradition borrowed from ‘70s American Independent cinema, which itself borrowed liberally from the French New Wave of the previous decade: the personal stories of broken people who like to talk a la John Cassavetes blended with the warmth of early Woody Allen and finally the mixed bag of charm and indifference filmed in an unobtrusively Eric Rohmer style. If Queen of Earth was Perry’s A Woman Under the Influence, then Golden Exits is his Husbands, but far more focused then the comparison might suggest. And what it retains from the former is a greater focus on women characters’ psychology. In fact, of the seven top-billed actors, only two are men. Less about gender specificity and more about the struggles of ordinary people with ordinary problems of romantic and familial relationships, it’s like entering a meditative state but forgetting to check your ego at the door.

Who should we like and why? What ties to us to them? Are we obligated to maintain tenuous relations to family? Ultimately there are no major answers to be found here, other than to stay true to the spirit of independent filmmaking. Do what works for you.