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The Independent Critic

Harry Hains, Michael Redford, Nicholas McDonald, Michelle Ehlen, Jinny Chung
Michael J. Saul
80 Mins.

 "The Surface" Set to Premiere at Frameline Film Festival  
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Evan Jones (Australian model Harry Hains) is an orphan who spent his childhood being switched from foster home to foster home for years. Now, he's in an uncomfortable relationship with Chris (Nicholas McDonald), whose wealth gives Evan a sense of tangible security but also creates a volatile tension. While searching through an old man's garage sale relics for an inexpensive gift, Evan discovers an 8mm movie camera.

His eyes light up in that way everyone's eyes light up when we discover that special "something" that lights a spark.

The old man, obviously sensing Evan's delight, invites him back the following week for an editing machine and to teach him how it all works. Unfortunately, when Evan does return the old man has passed away with only his 43-year-old son, Peter (Michael Redford), in the home. Peter ends up giving Evan old reels of 8mm movies that have just been picking up dust in the garage, but when Peter begins to experience these movies, featuring a younger Peter and his boyhood friend, Evan experiences thoughts and feelings long left dormant. Evan's friendship with Peter, enveloped by warmth and tenderness, begins to blossom and eventually becomes a relationship that leads to Evan's moving out of Chris's home and into Peter's.

It would seem that Evan has finally, perhaps, discovered both stability and intimacy.

The Surface, written and directed by award-winning filmmaker Michael J. Saul, will have its world premiere at San Francisco's Frameline Film Festival on June 27th at 6pm at the iconic Castro Theatre.

The Surface is an almost unnervingly quiet and intimate film, a film that emphasizes sensuality more than sexuality and silence more than unnecessary distraction. It is refreshing that Saul, who reportedly wrote this reflective film during a reflective period in his own life following the passing of his parents, has chosen to create a story that relaxes into life rather than forcing it to happen. While it becomes readily apparent early on that the relationship between Evan and Chris is fraught with social and financial tension, Saul doesn't take the easy way out by demonizing one or the other. Instead, this is an honest relationship with honest thoughts and feelings and strengths and weaknesses shared between both young men.

The Surface is a laid back film, rather meditative at times, The film's third act, more emphasizing the relationship between Evan and Peter, possesses a warmth and groundedness that makes everything that unfolds, especially for Evan, seem incredibly natural and rewarding.

There are some who will, I'm sure, consider the story to be too slight and the characters to be too under-developed.

Nah. They're wrong.

Michael J. Saul has created an intentionally slight film, a film that finds its voice in not only the words spoken but also in the tender and touching original score, the lensing that alternates between the present and the past, the latter largely viewed through the lens of those wonderfully revealing 8mm movies. There's a raw truth here that comes to life, a truth that can't possibly be heard amongst screaming or loud music or other distractions and so Saul wisely keeps the film quiet enough that you simply must listen to the words, the body language,  and the little moments that unfold throughout the movie.

The Surface lives into the idea that searching for family can take a lifetime. It is a search that takes us through life's highs and lows, joys and sorrows, and both successes and failures. It is a search that newcomer Harry Hains wears when he speaks and when he looks and when he breathes in a sigh that we, the audience, will end up feeling deep within ourselves. It is a search reveals itself in bits and pieces along the way, revelations that are brought vividly to life by Michael Redford's disciplined and honest performance along with Nicholas McDonald's earnest and genuine presence.

The Surface, I suppose, takes us maybe just a little bit below the surface. It's about discovering family around us, but also becoming the family we've always dreamed of within ourselves. There aren't a lot of films like The Surface that come around, too refreshingly authentic to be worried about perfection, so when they do you find yourself wanting to hold on tight, cherish the memory, and share it with those whom you consider your family of choice.

If you haven't found them yet. Well, hold on. You will.

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic