DIRECTED BY: Zachary Oberzan
FEATURING: Zachary Oberzan
PLOT: Small town Kentucky Sheriff Teasle picks up a shaggy vagrant, but finds that the kid is not as harmless as he initially appears; violent events lead the cop to stalk the resourceful fugitive through the forests toward a deadly showdown.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Flooding With Love for the Kid actually breaks the Weirdometer. A one-man retelling of David Morell’s pulp novel “First Blood,” made for $96, with toy snakes, teddy bears, and pine branches for props, shot entirely inside one Manhattan apartment, Flooding exists in its own universe: beyond weird or normal.
COMMENTS: In the category of “best feature film shot for under $100,” the winner, by a wide margin, is Flooding With Love for the Kid. The end credits explain that the film was “adapted, produced, directed, designed, filmed, performed, edited, special effects and makeup by Zachary Oberzan”: an entire career résumé in one movie. Primarily, the film’s an advertisement for Oberzan’s acting abilities. Playing all the characters, his ingenuity is tested to its limits. He generates significant empathy in the primary role of Teasle, the cop who looks like a man completely in command of his tiny police fiefdom, but who’s hiding personal pain and insecurity underneath the assured facade. The kid, Rambo, is a more mysterious figure—almost Christlike in his passive resistance to authority at the film’s beginning, though he turns into a survivalist psychopath cypher by the end of the first act. This portrayal focuses on the character’s mystical, symbolic side rather than on Rambo as a killing machine; Oberzan’s no Sylvester Stallone, and that’s meant as a compliment. When clean-shaven Teasle acts in split screen beside the bearded kid, you realize that these seamless-looking scenes where Oberzan reacts to himself had to be shot months apart. The auteur also plays the dozens of supporting characters, including an entire police squad, greasy spoon waitresses, Viet Cong torturers and, in his oddest role, a team of bloodhounds on Rambo’s trail. Playing all these parts tax Oberzan’s art to its limit, but he manages at the very least to distinguish each character so we can always tell them apart. Humorously, one of the deputies has slightly gay mannerisms (though we’re told he’s married). Other minor characters don’t fare as well: Colonel Troutman is little more than a pair of mirrored shades and a flat military delivery, while a state cop sports a consistently bizarre accent that’s about 75% Scottish, 25% unidentified (Eastern European? Indian?). Still, it’s impressive that you never get confused as to who’s who. David Morrell’s action allegory about the mistreatment of returning Vietnam veterans isn’t high art, but it is well constructed, and when well told it makes for a gripping tale. Here, it’s almost as if Oberzan is narrating the tale to you directly in his apartment, embellishing with whatever props he finds lying around—an upside down ceiling fan becomes a helicopter rotor, a teddy bear becomes a foraged lunch. The intimacy and playfulness in this form of storytelling works wonders; the kid’s love comes through and sweeps you up. The other joy in the film, and the one that leads to the weirdest moments, is watching how Oberzan tackles the challenges of suggesting action and location with no resources. It’s funny to watch a grown man jumping out of a bunk bed pretending he’s plummeting from the top of a pine tree, but the remarkable thing is that it doesn’t turn into nothing but a joke. Despite the utter absence of realism we’re never alienated from the story: we accept that a sink represents a stream, and the eventually the evergreen branches sticking out of a bookshelf seem perfectly normal—this is a forest, after all. More ambitious effects include rear projection, cheap chroma key so Oberzan can punch himself, and the occasional use of still photographs (some with the anti-piracy watermarks visible—oops!) to suggest exterior locations. The weirdest scenes—the apexes of unreality—occur when three overdubbed Oberzans portray the pack of dogs, wearing ski masks and floppy felt ears, and when a Rambo icon steals a police car icon, which drives down a photograph of a road. You keep watching because the story is interesting, but even more to see the ingenuity with which the author overcomes each new cinematic hurdle. Flooding isn’t the most entertaining movie of 2010, but it may be the most impressive, because the fact that it’s entertaining at all is a miracle. I never checked my watch once while watching it, which is more than I can say for many movies made on—literally—10,000 times Flooding‘s budget.
As a super low-budget experimental one-man unlicensed adaptation a pulp novel with no postmodern irony, Flooding With Love for the Kid may be the single most undistributable project ever filmed (although it has played at a few film festivals and special screenings). Accordingly, DVDs can only be bought directly from the author at his personal site. You can also check out a 40-minute “making of” documentary which explains how Oberzan ground out some of the film’s painstaking effects at the same link. At $15 per DVD, the author needs to sell less than ten copies to recoup his investment. After my purchase, he’s down to nine.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…adapted from the same early-’70s novel by David Morrell that inspired the 1982 action smash ‘First Blood’ and thereby launched Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo franchise. That’s already pretty weird, but in this case you can’t separate the story Oberzan is telling from the way he’s telling it… By chucking all normative standards of dramatic realism and character psychology, by rendering the very concept of suspension of disbelief ridiculous, Oberzan has shoved the story of Morrell’s 1972 novel ‘First Blood’ out of the action-movie realm and back into archetypal masculine myth, whence it began.”–Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com (contemporaneous)