If you love movies that end with some mustachioed sheriff pulling a dead child out of a swimming pool, then you're out of luck when it comes to Nobody Walks. If, however, you go for films of a rare, fragile emotional beauty, then you should not miss writer-director Ry Russo-Young's third feature when it plays the Cosford Cinema in Coral Gables from November 9 through 11.
"What we didn't want to make," she tells us, "is a movie where the kid ends up dead in the pool. That's the way that a lot of these movies happen: a very moralistic ending that makes people feel good because order is restored."
Don't worry; though a bike does wind up in the pool, there aren't any dead kids. But there is Olivia Thirlby's enigmatic Martine, an enigmatic New York artist who comes to Los Angeles to stay with John Krasinski's sound editor and his family while the two work on a film together. When Martine arrives, she inadvertently triggers a series of events that threaten the well-being of everyone around her.
Russo-Young wrote Nobody Walks with Lena Dunham of Girls and Tiny Furniture, but its origins are firmly rooted in her own life.
"After all, like Martine, I was 23 and an experimental filmmaker," she says. "I had affairs with men much older than me. It started there in the writing process but when I watch the film now, I think I'm nothing like Olivia. I'm not much like a mystery as she is."
Casting Krasinski, however, wasn't such an obvious choice.
"I wasn't like, 'Oh, I'll get America's most lovable sweetheart and he'll be an adulterer and screwup and you'll love him.' But you don't write him off as a creep and you go, 'Oh, he means well.' And even when you do get creeped out, there's a piece of the viewer who doesn't give up on him."
Though the film exhibits the specific kind of naturalism and emotional nakedness that Russo-Young pioneered as one of the founders of the Mumblecore movement, Nobody Walks incorporates formal experimentations with sound and intercut video, layering in these sources to amplify the emotional resonances of the characters. Most notable is a strangely erotic scene in which Krasinski's character has Martine close her eyes, put on headphones and attempt to identify the sounds he picks up through a microphone.
"Originally we were interested in how sex and intimacy creep into the workplace, how the lines can get blurry," Russo-Young says. "In that bathroom, they're both kind of in on a secret together. To be conscious of sound is to be conscious of silence. That becomes this whole world that opens up between two people. 'There's that tiny little air vent near me. Oh yeah...' Kind of like an affair."
But what really distinguishes the film is the unobtrusive way that Russo-Young brings her lens into the intimate moments of her characters. Take, for example, the look on Krasinski's face when he begins his affair.
"John makes this amazing moment," Russo-Young recalls, her voice getting quiet, as if she doesn't want to disturb the memory of that shot. "Time stops, everything -- the sound -- falls away. It's the decision. He does this thing he knows is wrong and all the layers of choice are there that a person makes when they make a big decision."
She pauses and thinks about that moment, seemingly seeing it as the characters in that instant, not lost in the swirling murk that their lives have become.
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"It's just so pure and clean."
Nobody Walks opens at Cosford Cinema Friday, November 9.