Both high stakes and low-key, “Slow Machine,” the enigmatic debut feature from Joe DeNardo and Paul Felten, who also wrote it, follows a Swedish actress named Stephanie (Stephanie Hayes). She falls in love with Gerard (Scott Shepherd), an intelligence officer with the New York Police Department, and sleeps with independent upstate musicians, including Eleanor Friedberger (like herself). Along the way, Stephanie attends an AA meeting and has a drink with Chloë Sevigny (playing a prickly version of herself) – the two events are slightly interrupted by a possible bomb threat.
Hard to describe and confusing to follow, the movie is best when you submit to its surreal nature; Then you will be open to witness the unfolding of one of this year’s most compelling films. Movies of such a lo-fi aesthetic rarely feel so important.
French mystic-leaning author Jacques Rivette has explicitly influenced directors, but there are also paranoid and insomniac traces of Sara Driver’s “Sleepwalk” and Bette Gordon’s “Variety”. Taboo flirtations with authority and danger are reminiscent of Jane Campion’s “In the Cut”. All of them are New York movies, but DeNardo and Felten’s New York is nearly impossible to place. Vague locations, along with the use of pointillist 16mm films and actor monologues, enhance a dreamy meta quality in-game.
Much of Gérard and Stéphanie’s relationship is contained in a sparsely furnished apartment. When he takes her to a restaurant, she asks what neighborhood they’re in (Queens, by the way). In the film’s best scene, Sevigny delves into a speech about a bizarre audition somewhere she can’t place, realizing that “the world had dissolved around us – not dissolved, dead”. Watching “Slow Machine” has this kind of weird effect: it transports you deep into a world you desperately seek to capture.
Unclassified. Duration: 1 hour 12 minutes. Watch through virtual cinemas.