CAPSULE: ARTOIS THE GOAT (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Cliff Bogart, Kyle Bogart

FEATURING: Mark Scheibmeir, Sydney Andrews, Stephen Taylor Fry

PLOT: Virgil, unhappy with his job as an assistant to a taste-tester in a flavor synthesis lab

Artois the Goat (2009)

and struggling with the pressures of a long-distance relationship with his fiancée, risks throwing everything away to dedicate himself to making a perfect goat cheese.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  Despite dream sequences and comic departures from reality, “weird” is too strong a word to use for this ever so slightly exotic concoction.  “Recommended” is also too strong a word, unless you add the modifier “mildly.”

COMMENTS: Artois the Goat is a film that captures all the thrills, excitement and romance of cheesemaking: milking the goats, separating the curds from the whey, aging the final product.  You might think there’s not a lot of thrills and romance in making artisanal goat cheese, but be assured that the Bogart brothers milk the subject for all it’s worth.  (That’s the closest I’m going to come to making a cheesy pun about this movie).  Actually, since the film is about following your passion, it could have just as easily been built around beer brewing, dollhouse building, or cannabis cultivation; but none of those other crafts would produce quite the same blend of snobbishness and ridiculousness as a film about cheesemaking, or appeal as deeply to the Food Channel demographic.  Quips aside, the cheesecrafting side of the film is somewhat educational and engaging, appealing to a certain “how do they make that stuff anyway?” fascination.  The thrust of the story is Virgil’s transition from a timid young adult who can’t commit to either a career or a woman to a fully-functioning adult who gets both.  Like its bespectacled hero (who sleeps in a bed surrounded by walls of books but is never seen reading anything but cheesemaking manuals), the movie is bookish without being intellectual.  It’s set in a world of smart, responsible, confused postgraduates who are neither hipsters nor yuppies, burnouts nor successes.  They have the education and taste to recognize the good life, but not the courage to seize it.  These twee characters and their sub-existential crises are a bit cloying, but thankfully, the movie frequently sets aside reality for comic effect, which keeps it fresh and saves it from becoming too earnestly indie.  There’s a recurring series of dreams (beautifully lensed in the Texas hill country, although not particularly dreamlike), and there are odd characters hanging around the fringes, like the homeless man in a clown wig who foodie Jens believes is an FDA spy and the policeman with a faithful hound who manages to appear whenever a black market transaction in unpasteurized Gouda goes down.  The movie starts off with an interesting technique in which a narrator is telling a story that has nothing to do with the characters we’re seeing onscreen, and there’s a subtly nightmarish bit where Virgil’s new boss seems to be his old boss’ evil twin.  The weirdest element is the goat of the title, Virgil’s shamanic animal guide: as a teatless buck, he should have no utility for the protagonist.  Performances are good for this level of filmmaking, though Stephen Taylor Fry’s German accent is neither convincing nor charming.  The actors do well until their asked to play big emotions while reciting unlikely verbiage; female lead Sydney Andrews comes off best of all, probably because she wasn’t handed any overwrought scenes.  The comedy is of the sort that keeps a near constant smile on your face but never makes you break out in peals of laughter.  The main complaint, in a film that’s supposed to be about knockout tastes, is that Artois the Goat plays it too safe with its seasonings, opting to keep everything light, creamy and pleasant.  The final product is tasty, but challenging the audience with a little more tang or bite couldn’t have hurt.  You wouldn’t feel ashamed serving this movie to your refined Chablis-drinking friends, but it’s not something you’d pull out to wow a cinematic gourmand, either; like even the finest goat cheese, it’s a tasty diversion, not a meal.

Despite not winning any major awards, Artois the Goat did fairly well on the festival circuit and was picked up by Indiepix for distribution, which makes it a success by independent film standards. The Bogart brothers show a lot of talent behind the camera and a willingness to tackle offbeat, uncommercial themes in an innocent style that’s largely out-of-fashion; I’d love to see what they might produce if they dedicated themselves to full-on weirdness, rather than just using it as a subtle complimentary flavor.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…charming, slightly surreal, and hilarious.”–James Renovitch, Austin Chronicle (festival screening)

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