Then, there's writer/director Kim Cummings' In Montauk.
Refreshingly, Cummings doesn't shy away from life's complicated moments and decisions in In Montauk, a film that practically defines what it means to be an independent film. It seems like these days even a good number of the "indie" films are just lower budgeted extensions of the major studios, so it almost comes as a surprise when a true indie gem comes across my desk with a clear vision, an authentic message and production values that practically demand that it be seen by a wider audience.
Julie (Nina Kaczorowski) is a young woman with a seemingly idyllic life. She has a husband (George Katt) who adores her, a baby on the way and a career as a photographer just getting ready to take off. Throwing herself into her artistic vision for an upcoming show, Julie finds herself alone in Montauk passionately pursuing her dream yet also quietly confronting her uncertainties. When a composer (Lukas Hassel) comes knocking on her door with an unusual request, the trajectory of Julie's life is altered as hopes and fears rise to the surface and decisions are made.
In Montauk is a film about adults making adult decisions in adult relationships. The film bears almost no similarity to the usual films that Hollywood would release about this very subject, though to describe the 68-minute film in too much detail would be too spoil it. Suffice it to say that Cummings doesn't sugarcoat her subject nor give her characters the easy way out. There's no real black or white thinking here. Instead, In Montauk exists uncomfortably yet appropriately within the gray areas of life where most of us find ourselves.
The film has proven to be popular on the film festival circuit with prizes awarded at Woods Hole Film Festival, Northampton Film Festival, New York VisionFest and Long Island International Film Expo among others. To pinpoint one area where the film excels would be simply unjust. Cummings has assembled a stellar cast and crew to construct what is easily one of 2012's indie highlights.
It's remarkable to discover that this is the first feature film from Cummings, an obviously gifted filmmaker with a confident artistic vision and an ear for dialogue woven together beautifully. D.P. Brian Dilg's cinematography is exceptional in both its crystal clear imagery and its ability to comfortably yet confidently companion the film's emotions. Likewise, Charlie Schmid's original music is as much a gift as the film itself.
Nina Kaczorowski does a beautiful job of offering up Julie as a richly human being tasked with extraordinarily challenging decisions to be made. It is wise to avoid judgment in this case, instead allowing the audience to simply observe her story and how it unfolds. Kaczorowski keeps us invested in Julie's story regardless of how we feel about those decisions, no small challenge. Lukas Hassel gives a similarly resonant performance as Christian, who serves as a sort of a detached yet undeniable muse. Hassel gives a performance that is grounded in truth rather than ideals, a choice that makes us feel more intensely the difficult choices unfolding. Finally, there is George Katt as Josh. Katt is given the challenge of playing a character who is in many ways a bystander of the changes in the world around him that are seeming to unfold regardless of who he is or how he acts. He is neither victim nor perpetrator, but Katt makes sure that we feel the importance of his presence.
In Montauk is an intellectually satisfying and emotionally honest film that takes what feels like a very real scenario and allows it to play out in a way that doesn't feel manufactured or histrionic. Life is difficult. Life is complicated. Sometimes, we make the best decisions we can based on the information we have at the time ... and sometimes we're wrong. Other times, what feels wrong is actually right. But how can we possibly know that?
In Montauk doesn't serve up the easy answers, but instead allows us to share in one of 2012 cinema's more honest and naturally played out life journeys. If you get a chance, check it out.