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DIRECTED BY: Jeff Rutherford
FEATURING: Charlie Plummer, Jeb Berrier, Oellis Levine
PLOT: Before committing suicide, Herman gets a call from his estranged son Nathaniel; meeting at a cemetery, Nathaniel brings his own son—who goes missing.
COMMENTS: Much as the film’s father and son teeter along the edge between acquiescence and despair in this ambling dialogue of a movie, Jeff Rutherford teeters along the edge between “indie” and “weird” with A Perfect Day for Caribou, his feature debut. While we generally prefer to bring attention to stranger films, if we can take the time to highlight slow-core tedium, we can take a moment here to talk about something melancholy, oddly humorous, and quietly hopeful.
Against the back-drop of close-knit upholstery, the movie begins with Herman (Jeb Berrier) dictating a final message to his son Nate (Charlie Plummer). From his scattershot remarks, it’s clear Herman’s anecdotes, pre-apologies, and side notes seem much like his life: unfocused, lacking purpose, and a bit sad. He’s prepared for his final moment, much as he’s prepared for his son to not care much what he has to say; despite this, he’s recording this rambling confession of sorts because even though he’s grasping at straws, “…the straws you grasp at—you should grasp them.” His would-be final words are interrupted when Nate calls him on his mobile phone, and the father and son meet up at a nearby cemetery, Nate’s autistic son Ralph in tow.
Thoreau said, “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”; and Herman and Nate quietly face the mindless and unavoidable sadness they have endured throughout their lives, with ample cigarettes. We watch two men travel the Oregonian countryside in search of young Ralph, interrupted only be surreal memories and hopeful imaginings. Herman spends most of the film carrying a sealed parcel his ex-wife, Nate’s mother, left behind. The men meet another lonely soul on their hushed, unhurried quest: a woman who accidentally shoots at Nate followed by the immediate heartfelt shout of, “Sorry!” No big deal. They all chat, share some water, and part ways.
As a general rule, I eschew anything so overtly art-house, but there is an odd satisfaction in watching these two broken men attempt to makes peace with themselves and each other. The sweeping vistas contrast their tiny existence. Nate is wise, either in the face of or because of his fractured background. His anguish is captured by his wish for his own son: “I don’t know if these type of people exist,” he says, “but I want Ralph to feel very limited hurt.” The best he can imagine is less pain.
Nate and Herman pursue the lost boy, who leaves clues behind for them to follow: a soccer ball, a toy truck, a plastic bag; the strange—and defiant—undercurrent is underscored by Herman’s closing scene. He’s opened the box, donned a pair of novelty reindeer antlers, and can’t quite find the right position for the gun barrel on his body. Everything’s wrong, nothing fits into place, so you’ve got to keep trying, I suppose, and maybe something will eventually click.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…in its best moments, [Rutherford’s] debut reaches for the mournful everyday poetry of Wim Wenders’ ‘Paris, Texas’ or Kelly Reichardt’s ‘Old Joy.’ Elsewhere, the film feels a little determined in its minimalism, a little too cute in its brushes of absurdism. Still, it promises significant things from its young writer-director, who shows more formal nous and rigor than many neophyte directors of comparable U.S. indies.”–Guy Lodge, Variety (festival screening)