One of the trickier brands of comedy to pull off is deadpan humor. There's a subtle sense of timing required and actors must deliver immensely sincere performances without going over-the-top. All About the Feathers (Por La Plumas), a little film from Costa Rica achieves this with warm wit that harnesses a quiet pace while indulging in wide, well-composed shots. Often, it recalls early Wes Anderson without being too cute about it.
Chalo (Allan Cascante) is a wiry security guard who makes his baggy uniform look pathetic. He works nights on an unoccupied property and dreams of owning a gamecock. When he finally gets one after insistently asking his landlord to sell him his rooster, he seems a bit clueless but devoted to the bird.
The film is all about Chalo building quirky friendships around the cock, Candy (Sylvia Sossa) is a housemaid who works near his place of work and insists Chalo will make a killing selling Avon products. Erlan (Erlan Vásquez) is a tall, chubby teen who looks up to Chalo and his assumed talents with the rooster. He even composes a theme song for the bird on his trumpet, albeit with a rather morose-sounding and possibly prophetic sounding melody. Then there's Jasón (Marvin Acosta) a reformed delinquent and fellow security guard who understands the Bible in his own unique way and insists his name be pronounced HaSON, as he hates the idea of "gringo-fying" his name.
First-time director Neto Villalobos, who also wrote and edited the film, shows a keen eye for timing throughout the film, which runs a neat 85 minutes. He lets the camera linger on many scenes, building on a rhythm that seems to celebrate a love for the gradually unfolding moment and the Sisyphean myth of persistence. His original style never feels slow or dull, as it allows for the layers of ironic behavior to pile up for genuine laughs, well-earned by the charms of these characters.
One great scene features the introduction of Jasón to Chalo. Chalo's brawny boss Don David (David Rios) comes by the property on a colorful motorcycle, with Jasón riding on the back. The camera sits at a distance capturing the trio's dynamic without resorting to single cut in the image. Villalobos does a lot to set up the character dynamic by introducing a bat and a gun into the picture.
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All About the Feathers is a U.S. Premiere and was a film that would have not been completed had it not been for the help of the Miami International Film Festival. As an Encuentros award-winner at last year's festival, the film proves to be a great investment as a quality film. People won't bang down the doors to see a movie from Costa Rica about a security guard and his game cock, but it's a quality work with a distinct and sustained tone of humor better than most the formulaic and predictable comedies produced by Hollywood.
All About the Feathers screens Friday, March 14, at 7 p.m. at Regal South Beach. Saturday, March 15, at 4:15 p.m. at Paragon Grove 13. The director will be present to introduce the film and hold a Q&A session afterward. Tickets.
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @HansMorgenstern.