Magazine article Screen International

'The Arbalest': SXSW Review

Magazine article Screen International

'The Arbalest': SXSW Review

Article excerpt

Dir/scr: Adam Pinney. US. 2016. 76mins

Writer-director-editor Adam Pinney makes an off-kilter, confident feature debut with The Arbalest, telling the story of a melancholy toy inventor whose wealth and fame can't make up for the woman who got away. Sometimes overindulgent of its own concentrated brand of deadpan strangeness, this bittersweet, prickly comedy is nonetheless visually striking and fully in command of its potentially off-putting tone, drawing you in even as it risks alienating those not willing to get on its screwy, weirdly resonant wavelength.

Winner of the South by Southwest Grand Jury Prize for narrative features, The Arbalest should attract indie distributors with a taste for adventurous, quirky fare. However, with no marketable names in the cast, this low-budget production will need to rely on festival buzz and good reviews to boost its profile. That said, superb lensing from cinematographer Hugh Braselton and an imaginative period look could lend itself to a fetching trailer that might attract fans of left-of-centre American indies.

Spanning the years 1968 to '78, the film stars Mike Brune as Foster Kalt, who, when we first meet him, is an idealistic toy inventor hoping to make his name. At a conference in New York City, he meets the beguiling Sylvia (Tallie Medel) and a condescending, unnamed stranger (Jon Briddell), who will also present his invention.

The unexpected death of this stranger leads Sylvia to make a bargain with Foster: She'll split the profits of the dead man's innovative new toy with him if he pretends it's his own. (Since Sylvia advised the unnamed man on his toy, she's worried she'll be suspected of stealing the idea if she goes public with the invention.) The puzzle-cube toy ends up becoming a phenomenon, but for the next 10 years Foster is haunted by his unrequited love for Sylvia, who leaves his life just as quickly as she entered it.

A cinematographer for the 2014 viral comedy short Too Many Cooks and Joe Swanberg's 2013 thriller 24 Exposures, Pinney demonstrates a talent for arresting images, distinctive mood and sharp pacing with The Arbalest, which works less as a compelling narrative than as a weaving of a captivating style. …

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