Shaun Rose, Bruce Rose Sr., Andrea Stangle, Adrianna Rose, Keenan Rose, Damian Caldwell, Jonah Rose, Emily Rose, Emma Rose, Jaylen Finch
Shaun Rose, Bruce Rose Sr., Andrea Stangle
Movie Review: Toga
It was a few years back that I had the chance to check out the minimalist cinema of writer/director Shaun Rose, an ultra-low budget artistic presence with a gift for giving voice to the ordinary joe. That film, Upstate Story, now has a sequel of sorts as we pay another visit to Ellis Martin (Rose himself). Ellis has moved on from the world he inhabited in Upstate Story, though the trailer park dwelling single father still projects a sort of melancholy approach to his life courtesy of a fairly meager existence working in a thrift store while contemplating a gig as a videographer. It's that side gig as a videographer that serves as the narrative thrust for Toga, a gig that finds him scouting scenes for a filmmaker in none other than his childhood town of Saratoga. At a slight but effective 62-minute running time, Toga takes us on a journey alongside Ellis as he returns to his hometown with its mixed array of memories and reminders that he's still not quite where he wants to be.
While there's an ensemble working here, the vast majority of Toga centers around Ellis and the life he lived and the life he's now living. He's a likable working class dude who's rough around the edges but seemingly a good soul. Toga is truly a microcinema effort with a less than $1,000 production budget and black-and-white lensing, with occasional slashes of color, that feels immersive like those days when you drive through the other side of the tracks. Filmed entirely in Saratoga Springs and Ballston Spa, New York, Toga feels stark but never hopeless.
Toga picked up three prizes at the recent Uruvatti International Film Festival - Audience Award (Best International Feature Film), Best of Category Award (Best Actor - Feature Film), and another Best of Category Award (Best Original Score - Feature Film). Indeed, the film's strongest points are Rose's own lead performance that includes narration throughout the film and a top-notch original score from Jacob W. Veitch.
Toga is a patient little film. It's devoid of unnecessary conflicts and contains no real distractions from the meaningful storytelling and Rose's resigned yet determined performance as Ellis that has you cheering for him even as the closing credits roll. This is the kind of indie gem that's always fun to discover at a local indie film fest and, much like the life portrayed here, it's the kind of film that lingers in the memory long after the closing credits have rolled.
There's never really a moment when you forget that Toga is a low-budget affair, however, Rose works nicely within that budget and I'd dare say this is a film that benefits from cinematic simplicity. While Toga may not blow you away, it will likely leave you contemplating your own life.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic