on 6 May 2010
Beeswax is a poignant study of people, their relationships, and the paradoxically fascinatingly mundane character of life in a small pocket of modern America- Austin, Texas. It is a beautifully shot film, a film of rich, contrasting colours, a deceptively simple film. At its centre is the relationship between twin sisters Jeannie and Lauren, with phenomenal performances by real-life twin sisters (and newcomers) Tilly and Maggie Hatcher. The way their relationship plays out onscreen is mesmerising in so many ways. It is simply there, never overacted, never overemphasised, just there. The sisters have refreshingly open faces and deeply expressive eyes. Jeannie's relationship with her law student ex-boyfriend Merrill (Alex Karpovsky) is also wonderfully conveyed. Another element of the film I found compelling was its almost complete absence of music, both as an external soundtrack and within the world of the film. This strangely enough gave the film's characters a strong presence- I felt like I was more focussed on their gestures, their facial expressions and the subtleties of their interactions than I would have been if a soundtrack had been playing. It made the film more realistic and identifiable. A remarkable film.
Beeswax, the secretion of bees to make the cells of the hives,is a strange title for a film,but it is apt for a film by one of the newer,more interesting American film maker's,Bujalski.Stripped of the glamour,action and storytelling of the usual Hollywood fare.We don't get dialogue but mumbled speak,semi-articulate,but seemingly unrehearsed interactions between close-knit characters,adept at using phrases like `awesome','dude','cool',words that seem to suck out the tension of conflict and drama.Yes,they're self aware,sophisticates who are operating in their own self-made comfort zones.There's a documentary quality,as if we've stumbled into a film by the Mayles' brothers,mixed in with a nod to Rohmer.
It's about twin sisters,one wheelchair-bound(Jeannie),who half owns the vintage clothes and local art shop, Storyville, with Amanda,with whom she's in some kind of dispute,more from suspicion of disengagement by her partner,and who does things without consulting Jeannie,and leaves Jeannie to do most of the work.Jeannie and her ex-boyfriend Merrill,a soon-to-graduate law student,seem to think Amanda is about to sue her.Jeannie and her sister Lauren,have a fun and frolicsome relationship, and Lauren is about to go to Kenya,or is she? Tilly Hatcher plays Jeannie with a warm naturalism,so we see her making love,getting into and out of cars from a wheelchair, without thinking she's disabled.Is she in the right or wrong in the business relationship?We never know,we only see it from her POV.Is it all a misunderstanding?
Her difficulty is that the spontaneity she has with her twin which doesn't depend on explanation or vulnerability,but intuitive closeness,makes her pathological when communicating what she wants or feels or needs with others,except when it relates to her disability,but she's evasive of the formal,preset,in business,law or life.The film is a subtle examination of the parochial niceness and trap of such relationships.The ethic of the anti-corporate indie lifestyle has the aim of freeing people up from frameworks of convention,contract and law, which it's implied lead to corruption.The trouble is nobody seems to take responsibility,the outside world,like the need to catch a plane,seems to bully with urgent necessity.Non declaration becomes passive-aggressive.The undefined openness Jeannie is driven to preserve has it own allure.Superstition about making formlessness into form,as bees do with beeswax.The central characters were played by real sisters.
Intelligent, very low key mumble-core comedy/ drama that I liked better on reflection than while I was first watching it.
While I was viewing, the lack of plot and forward motion seemed frustrating. But looking back I found all the little honest moments of human weirdness that Bujalski captured with his (apparently) semi-improvised style gave me more of a real look into the lives of these late 20 somethings than I would have gotten from a more plot driven narrative.
And there IS a plot – about careers, about commitments, and about friendship. The tension over whether two friends who co-own a shop are actually going to sue each other over how the store is run is palpable, if not heart pounding. It's just the focus is more on details than on the big picture -- which is actually a lovely change from most films out there.
Kudos too for having a lead character in a wheelchair and a) not making that the most important thing about her, and b) allowing her to be sexy, sexual, funny, angry, grumpy – all the things people with challenged lives rarely are in movies.