NZIFF ’11: Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench

nziff ’11: Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench
dir. Damien Chazelle | USA | 2009 | 82 mins.

Shot on 16mm black-and-white stock and following the relationship of a young couple in modern-day Boston, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench appears to be the filmic love child of Jean-Luc Godard and John Carney. In actuality, it’s the exquisite directorial début of Damien Chazelle, and was originally intended as his thesis film for Harvard Film School. It is basically a mash-up of the film styles and genres I love, casting a gritty cinema vérité light on the traditional MGM musical, using accomplished jazz musicians instead of professional actors, and featuring all-original music composed by Justin Hurwitz with lyrics by Chazelle, performed by the cast (often live).

The narrative follows the twentysomething title characters—Guy, a rising jazz trumpeter, and Madeline, an aimless introvert—and opens with a sequence that summarises their three-month whirlwind love affair. The film then tracks them as they separate, meet and spark up romances with new people, and eventually flirt with the idea of rekindling the relationship they once shared. While the story is very simple, it’s kept exciting by the unusual and unique little transitions from realist conversation to jazzy musical numbers and choreographed tap routines.

Guy and Madeline merges the trendy slacker sensibilities of indie film with documentary-style photography—i.e., mumblecore—and then completes the package by placing that storytelling style within the conventions of the big-budget musicals of Hollywood’s golden age, in the process paying homage to the glitz and glamour of all those old big production numbers. While it may sound like an uneasily eclectic mix, the film is truly distinctive and charming.

The New Zealand International Film Festivals began on July 14 in Auckland; they start in Wellington on July 29, then travel to Dunedin, Christchurch, Palmerston North, and Hamilton throughout August, and Nelson, Tauranga, New Plymouth, Hawke’s Bay, Greymouth, Masterton, and, finally, Kerikeri in November.

Full information on all films in the programme is at the festival’s website.

For more reviews, browse the “New Zealand International Film Festivals 2011
tag on this site, and check the Twitter hashtag #nzff.