DIRECTED BY: Drew Barnhardt
FEATURING: Luke Sorge, Brenna Otts, Reggie De Morton,Gena Shaw, Steve Van Beckum
PLOT: Paul has been dishonorably discharged from the military and relies on his sister’s hospitality for a couch to crash on; when she recommends a therapist to help him with PTSD and alcohol addiction, he encounters a sordid world where revenge and unhealthy fantasy experiences can be bought for the right price.
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Rondo un-apologetically wrings the viewer through a stylized world of manneristic camera, Edward Hopper-esque lighting, gratuitous violence, and a purposely intrusive soundtrack. It plays like a bare bones revenge murder fest spiked with dubstep Greenaway.
COMMENTS: Even before its international premiere, Rondo was creating mumblings among reviewers who had seen it in the screening room. At the debut, the normally raucous Friday night crowd was uncharacteristically quiet in the theater. Then Rondo unleashed its singular form of magic. Having decided on a whim to catch this, I was very impressed at not only its vitality, violence, and humor, but also its incredible audacity. The director, Drew Barnhardt, started this project with the intention of making, without compromise, the movie he wanted to make. He succeeded spectacularly.
Rondo begins as the story of Paul (Luke Sorge), a young man dishonorably discharged from the army and shattered by PTSD. His daily life consists of drinking whiskey and lying on his sister’s couch. Troubled by her brother’s depression, his sister Jill (Brenna Otts) recommends a therapist who herself recommends that Paul should explore Denver’s fetish scene. Provided with an address and a password, Paul visits an opulent apartment building in which he encounters two others who have been solicited for having intercourse with a doped-up businessman’s wife. But don’t worry, the role-playing and strange demands are all “part of the fun,” insists Lurdell (Reggie De Morton), in a speech teaming with ominous guide-lines (“keep it on the plastic.”) Paul has a cigarette out on the balcony while waiting his turn, looking inside at where the action is taking place. His bad habit ends up saving his life.
Rondo relies heavily on two nondiegetic sound techniques to keep the viewer detached from the goings-on. The first is an advertently intrusive hardcore electro-trance soundtrack that acts as a dissonant counterpoint to much of the on-screen action. Brooding scenes are imbued with a strange, unsettling energy with each musical cue; I could easily imagine Rondo slipping into melodrama otherwise. Narration also spikes the proceedings. With an officiousness of tone to compete with Colin Cantlie in The Falls, Steve Van Beckum simultaneously clarifies and undercuts the narrative flow, adding another barrier between the audience and the action. Whenever his radio-style voice courses from the speakers, it purposely reminds us that Rondo is a movie, while at the same time anchoring us to the movie’s world.
And that’s just the sound. Stylistically, much of Rondo works like Peter Greenaway at his most ZOO-ily formalistic. Scenes are designed more like paintings than real life. That’s not to say that the action is missing, but more that Barnhardt knows what he wants us to look at, and goes to great lengths to make us do so. I mentioned Hopper earlier, and the candy-noir of his paintings springs up again and again. Then there’s the story itself. Narrative twists are a convention for many of the movies we review; Rondo‘s take is more of a narrative convulsion. Ultimately, the finale is the one that we necessarily had to reach, but the path there is like having our arm twisted behind our back (but, paradoxically, pleasantly so). In Rondo, baroque verbiage and baroque violence come together in a celebration of blood-sodden deadpan.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“How much can one ninety-minute film reasonably do within its timeframe? Can a film successfully go from awkward laughs to gore, from femmes fatales to OTT-ultraviolence, and from slacker humour to shock? Rondo (2018) believes it’s not only possible, it’s all part and parcel of its overall appeal.”–Keri O’Shea, Warped-Perspective.com