FEATURING: David Carranza, Tiffany Mualem
PLOT: The (literally) separate realities of a thief and a paramedic intersect.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Try though it might, The Frame can’t entirely escape the sophomore slump. Jamin Winans’ first film, Ink, was a budget original and a Certified Weird success. This followup has interesting ideas that prove Winans’ talent is not a fluke, but it doesn’t capture the imagination the way the debut film did.
COMMENTS: The production team behind The Frame has been stingy in revealing details of the film’s plot, and after watching it I can see why. The movie does benefit from surprising twists (the first of which is revealed fairly early), and although I don’t think the intriguing concept completely pays off at the film’s end, it’s still a good idea not to spoil it. So, this is as much as I’m willing to say about the plot: it involves Alex, an illegal immigrant and reluctant thief working with a crew who boosts cargo from sixteen-wheelers, who’s looking for a way out of his criminal lifestyle. It also involves Sam, a dedicated paramedic with a troubled personal life and a weekly date with a blurry therapist. The two characters live separate lives in realities that exist at right angles to each other—not parallel, since parallel storylines never intersect, and these two lives do connect, in a very strange way.
I can’t say that the two stories resolve themselves in an emotionally satisfying way, but things do get weird by the end, especially when Sam crashes a film production studio and finds herself stuck in a loop with a self-typing typewriter. There’s also a low-tech, but bold, special effect with Alex that looks simultaneously silly and cool; it’s the kind of thing a Hollywood film would never dare try for fear of looking foolish.
The rigorous father-daughter allegory of Ink is here replaced by a free-form rumination about free will, about the (im?)possibility of escaping from your “frame” (whether that’s a self-limiting frame of reference, or a literal frame of celluloid). Whereas Winans’ debut was a dream/puzzle film, here he opts for a Twilight Zone-y scenario set mostly in the “real” world that feels, at times, unfinished. Each story contains a mysterious pseudo-omniscient figure lurking around the film’s edges whose significance is never fully explained; in Sam’s case, it’s her therapist, while Alex sees visions of a steampunk tinker in a raggedy tophat out of the corner of his eye. The latter character was memorable enough to make the DVD jacket, and to make the viewer wish he’d appeared in more scenes. The ultimate resolution, unfortunately, is arbitrary; the script too cleverly writes itself into a corner, and has no way out except deus ex machina.
All in all The Frame is a mixed bag, a film with pretty big ideas, some of which work and some that fall flat. One thing that can definitely be said in its favor is that it’s a professional looking film that belies its budget. Denver, Colorado is not known as a hotbed of movie talent, but the technical aspects of this film—editing, camerawork, lighting, acting—equal indies made in New York or Hollywood. The Frame makes an excellent calling-card for young leads David Carranza and Tiffany Mualem; both prove capable of carrying an indie drama. They’re flatteringly photographed and show emotional intensity (if not a lot of range, given the quiet and downbeat mood of the story).
The career arc of Jamin Winans reminds me of; ((One difference between the two is that Jamin has a collaborator, producer, publicist and wife Kiowa Winans, who probably deserves more credit for the finished products than she gets)). both are obsessive fantasists who work slowly, meticulously control their films (including writing their own scores), and eschew commercial compromise. The upside to that methodology is independence; the downside is they refuse studio resources that could help them to realize more elaborate visions. As long as these guys keep coming up with creative ways to reveal the fantastic in the everyday, though, no one here will complain.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
A digital copy of this movie was provided by the distributor for review.