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DIRECTED BY: Joshua Zev Nathan
FEATURING: Jake Smith, Sophia Savage, Darwin Luján, Becca Huerter
PLOT: A socially awkward poetry student pursues relationships with classmates which mix up in his mind with his dreams.
COMMENTS: Microbudget features require a different set of expectations from the viewer. Watching and appreciating them is a learned skill, not something that comes naturally to modern filmgoers accustomed to plots which are advanced by CGI as much as dialogue. Movies like The Dreams of Rene Sendam, therefore, aim at a niche audience. You need to be able to handle a minimalist presentation and develop an appreciation for what filmmakers can accomplish with little means. These films offer their audiences not spectacle and diversion, but authenticity and passion. Even when they don’t entirely succeed, I often develop a soft spot for them simply because they have more personality than big budget, focus-grouped features developed with corporate blandness. Such is the case with The Dreams of Rene Sendam.
Rene Sendam is a character study/romance infused with the spirit of poetry—in the wispy, hazy, undergraduate free verse mode. The main character is a poetry student, trying to pick up other poetry students in poetry class while we hear lectures and verses from a poetry professor. Unfortunately Rene, while quietly handsome and a sensitive soul, is so shy and awkward that he gives off creepy stalker vibes. His only friend is religious zealot Jim (Darwin Luján, who gives the film’s best performance, taking a word association game to apocalyptic lengths). As Rene wanders through the film writing poetry, he searches for what he really wants—love—as occasional surprising bouts of nudity and sex interrupt the proceedings.
Despite featuring in the title, Rene’s dreams aren’t much integrated into the film’s artistic framework. The fact that he sometimes (rarely) has vivid dreams that we are privy to is just a character trait, like bushy eyebrows or a love of houseplants. Although the logline brags that Rene’s “dream world threatens to rupture reality and put his friend’s life in danger,” the unruptured reality is that the simple love story that the script wants to tell could easily be rewritten to omit the brief flights of fantasy without changing anything. Unlike a low-budget feature like Strawberry Mansion, the microbudgeted Rene Sendam has no money to create dream sequences, so we get simple hallucinations like dinner served on a beach. This movie’s dreams are so like its realities that there’s little ambiguity to the proceedings.
Like its protagonist, Rene Sendam always has good intentions, even if it doesn’t always deliver on them. To its credit, its dramatic scenarios have enough variation to keep you reasonably engaged. Ultimately, however, the film lacks the budget to realize its purposelessness.
Trivia/disclosure: a 366 Weird Movies writer worked as crew on this movie and appears as an extra. I was not aware of this fact until after it had been selected for review. It is available for purchase, or try it for free on Tubi.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“While it doesn’t all work and is a bit too ambiguous for its own good, the extremely adult unrated drama ‘The Dreams of Rene Sendam’ gets points for sheer ambition.”–Russ Simmons, KKFI (contemporaneous)