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Past Life tracks the daring late 1970s odyssey of two sisters - an introverted classical musician and a rambunctious scandal sheet journalist - as they unravel a shocking wartime mystery that has cast a dark shadow on their entire lives.
A reclusive conspiracy theorist (George Basil) enlists people from his small town to help him make a low-budget movie about his experience encountering aliens while working as a geologist for the federal government.
Let's cut to the chase: "Man Underground", which premiered July 22 at the Fantasia Film Festival, is among the best films screening in Montreal this year. Whether you think it is top three or top ten will vary on personal preference, but there is no doubt that everyone who attends the screening will be very happy that they did. This is the sort of film that encompasses the full range from humorous to sad to terrifying, and never feels forced.
None of the cast or crew involved are what you might call big names. Based on their combined credits, this film seems to have had its genesis in a group of people who were working for CollegeHumor. Interestingly, this is not really a comedy, but rather more a tragedy with morsels of horror and science fiction. Even more interesting, perhaps, is that for both writer-directors (Michael Borowiec and Sam Marine), this is their first feature length film. If they continue making features, we should be looking forward to years of great movies in the future.
The three main actors (George Basil, Pamela Fila and Andy Rocco) work great together and their characters provide an incredible balance, making the three of them equal parts to a greater whole. As much as Willem (Basil) is serious, he is counteracted by Todd (Rocco)'s humor and Flossie (Fila)'s sweetness and caring. The fourth character that stood out was Shack, played by Alex Watt. Shack has a great interaction with Willem, and it is within their exchanges that we appreciate how intelligent Willem is. Shack believes in conspiracy theories and aliens, but he believes them out of ignorance. Willem, on the other hand, is not a conspiracy nut – he isn't raving about moon hoaxes or the JFK assassination – but is only trying to present what he personally knows to be the truth to a world that is teeming with skeptics.
One has to appreciate the development of Willem as brilliant and sympathetic, though rough around the edges. He is abrasive and can be a jerk, but we understand why Todd and Flossie are still drawn to him. Viewers are left to wonder if he's crazy, especially if the viewer is a skeptic, but we are given enough reason to think his story just might be true. We know at least some of it is verifiable, and this doubt makes Willem's ultimate fate all the more mysterious for the viewer. (Obviously I can't reveal such a spoiler here!)
"Man Underground" is such a richly-constructed film. The premise sounds silly (friends making a home movie), but don't be discouraged by that. This is not some cheesy found footage horror flick. Heck, it is barely even a science fiction film. This is a really meat-and-potatoes friendship story revolving around three disparate but equally interesting main characters. If you didn't get the chance to see the film at Fantasia, keep your eyes out for it if the film doesn't get a wide theatrical release, that means somebody dropped the ball.
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