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DIRECTED BY: Mitchell Stafiej
FEATURING: James Watts, Travis Cannon
PLOT: A filmmaker visits his hometown and is annoyed to find that Matt is the only friend from his glory days who can spend time with him.
WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: The interspersal of fuzzy-collage subconscious interludes, culminating in a long-form hazy nightmare kicking off the third act, makes this fast-talking mumblecore a very strange character study of a breaking man attempting to become wholly broken.
COMMENTS: “Disorientingly intimate” is the best way to describe the viewing experience for this bleakly hilarious buddy comedy. From the moment we meet our protagonist, Alek, his environment’s dimensions are obscured, with only occasional glimpses of his milieu to anchor our perception. The camera is in his face—or his associates’ faces—for most of the film, and the disassociative effect of all these floating heads, often partially out of frame, reflects Alek’s disorganized approach to his friends and himself. We ride along with Alek as he travels through drink, drugs, and dialogue, following the mad whims of the swarm of bees that seem to make up his consciousness.
The story is straightforward enough, and the characters do a fine job filling their archetypal slots. Alek (James Watts, channeling Brendan Gleeson by way of Jack Black) is arrogant, charismatic, fast-talking, despairing, and terrified. His buddy Matt (Travis Cannon, a reassuringly grounded presence) is affable, and never got the memo that Alek never really considered him a friend back in high school. There is an ex-lover, some incidental parents, and a much put-upon liquor store salesman (who at one point declares, “This is getting too weird; I’m calling the cops”).
There were moments when The Diabetic reminded me of Alain Resnais‘ Je T’aime, Je T’aime: the recurring water themes, and most obviously the opening line about the impossibility of time travel, attempted anyway. And there were moments that reminded me of Begotten—at least visually. I don’t know another film to compare to to describe the blurry-blottedness of our visits to (or intrusions from?) Alek’s mind. It (his mind, that is) rears its head every once in a while over the course of the evening, taking center stage for long minutes when Alek, in his quest for annihilation, just about succeeds in his ambitions.
Director Mitchell Stafiej would have done just fine merely whipping out a better-than-average talk-comedy in the vein of Clerks and other ’90s indie features. But he doesn’t. The hyper-documentary style, augmented by Super-8-into-16mm cinematography, lends the film an unnerving urgency, rendered claustrophobic throughout by the throwback 4:3 aspect ratio. The diegetic sound is slopping, sloshy, growing more and more so as Alek stumbles further into his debauched abyss of hating the world and hating himself. Stafiej pulls off the impressive stunt of fusing hyper-reality and nightmare in a comi-tragedy, making The Diabetic one type of film you definitely want to give a shot.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…a cry out into the urban abyss. A feverish ambling through past lives best left past… you are more likely to be hooked on the disorienting aesthetic than compelled by the story being unraveled.”–Alex Brannan, CineFiles Movie Reviews (festival screening)