Review: Sophia Takal's GREEN

Green, the remarkable and quietly self-assured debut film from director/actress Sophia Takal, refers in its title to much more than the foliage that appears in its rural setting. Most pertinently, the main subject of this film is the proverbial green-eyed monster of jealousy that haunts the mind of Genevieve (Kate Lyn Sheil), one of Green's three principal characters, like a vicious poltergeist attacking its host. This is a horror film of a sort, albeit one without supernatural elements, an effect enhanced by the eerie music score by Ernesto Carcamo and the moody, atmospheric sound design by Weston Fonger. The isolated setting, far from the familiar urban haunts of the young couple at its center, which unleashes all sorts of psychological imbalance, obliquely brings to mind Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Contributing to Green's indelibly haunting quality is that at the end of its brief 72-minute running time, the situation is tantalizingly left unresolved; but rather than feeling incomplete, it allows the ethereal and subtly disturbing mood to linger long after the end credits.

Green often sets itself up as a study in contrasts: urban vs. rural, self-consciously intellectual vs. relatively uncultured. Life in the city is represented by a brief but very telling pre-credits sequence, in which Sebastian (Lawrence Michael Levine) holds forth at a house party, pontificating on the greatness of Philip Roth. Sebastian's overbearing and subtly patronizing comments in reaction to his girlfriend Genevieve's contributions to the discussion establishes her feelings of inadequacy and troubled sense of self, making her susceptible to the intense jealousy she will experience later. A subsequent scene when they are having sex, which is interrupted when Genevieve protests against Sebastian browbeating her into talking dirty to him like he wants, also points to some serious issues in their relationship.

The rest of the film follows Sebastian and Genevieve's retreat to a country house, where Sebastian, a journalist, attempts to practice farming, which he will document for a blog. Sebastian, to his great frustration, proves to be utterly inadequate for this task, unable to perform such basic tasks as operating farm equipment or tilling soil. Meanwhile, Genevieve seems to have nothing to do, seeing to simply tag along to support Sebastian's efforts. 

Soon enough, the catalyst for Genevieve's jealousy arrives in the form of Robin (Sophia Takal), an ebullient, voluble woman with a pronounced Southern accent, who barges in Sebastian and Genevieve's house, looking for a house key, and claiming to know the owner of the house. Robin insinuates herself in their company, talking nonstop about seemingly everything that enters her head. Though at first she may come across an intrusive woman with a lack of boundaries and respect for others' privacy, as played by Takal, she nevertheless has a rather sweet, endearing quality. And though at first Genevieve and Robin seem to get on well, bonding over small talk and reminiscences of creepy bosses they have worked for, at some point a switch turns in Genevieve's head. She begins to be mentally assaulted by images of Sebastian and Robin having sex, based on a feeling that the two are attracted to each other, although by all appearances there is little evidence of this in reality. Green's style at this point becomes more fragmented and a sense of creeping unease becomes more pronounced as the film progresses.

Green's press notes and many interviews Takal has given detail the autobiographical inspiration for her film, which is the intense jealousy she felt herself as Lawrence Michel Levine, Takal's fiancé in real life, was making his own film Gabi on the Roof in July, which Takal also acted in. The time he spent away from her, and the intimate scenes he performed as an actor in his film with other women, caused her to accuse him of being unfaithful; she points to her tendency to feel as if she was in competition with other women as a big part of the issue. Green represents her attempt to use art to work out these feelings. Adding to the personal nature of the project is the fact that actress Kate Lyn Sheil is a roommate of Takal and Levine.

But even if you're not aware of this whole backstory (which in fact I wasn't when I first viewed this film in its premiere New York screening at MoMA last year), the intensely intimate and personal nature of Green comes through powerfully in every frame. The naturalistic performances by Takal, Levine, and Sheil greatly contribute to the film's moody atmospherics.  An astute and complex portrait of female competition, primal sexual desire, and psychological angst, Green heralds the arrival of Sophia Takal as a major talent as an actor and director, one whose career will be well worth following in the future.

Green opens in New York on September 7 at the reRun Gastropub Theater in Brooklyn, and runs through September 13. Sophia Takal and her cast will have Q&A's on September 7 at the 7:30 and 10:15 shows. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit reRun's website

Green also opens in Chicago on September 7 at Facets Multimedia. For more info, visit their website.

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