Quiet City

English Title: Quiet City

Country of Origin: USA

Director: Aaron Katz

Runtime: 78 minutes

Language: English

Year: 2007

Volume: American - Independent

Jamie is 21. She's from Atlanta. She's come to Brooklyn to visit her friend Samantha, but she can't find her. Jamie tries calling, but Samantha's phone is dead. Jamie meets Charlie when she asks him for directions. Nothing to do and nothing but time leads them to bowls of coleslaw, footraces in the park, art shows, and after parties.

In its brief 78 minutes, Quiet City was able to accom­plish some­thing quite remark­able. By the end of the film, I was begin­ning to care about a couple of people whom I almost dis­missed at the start. Though the script still feels a bit under­cooked in places, and the sound mix often had me straining to hear what was being said, the editing and acting actu­ally felt nat­ural so that I jour­neyed with the char­ac­ters from awk­ward­ness to curi­osity to empathy to genuine connection.

The story arc is modest, to say the least, and I wouldn’t con­sider my plot sum­mary to be spoiling any­thing, but just in case, con­sider this a spoiler alert and skip to next para­graph if you like. Jamie (Erin Fisher) arrives in Brooklyn toward evening. At the subway stop, she asks stranger Charlie (Cris Lankenau) dir­ec­tions to a diner where she’s sup­posed to meet her friend Samantha. When Samantha fails to show, Charlie and her spend the rest of the evening and the next day together. For the first ten minutes, their twentyso­mething slacker (lack of) vocab­u­lary was driving me nuts, with each “like” hit­ting my eardrums like a sharpened stick. But it’s remark­able how their dia­logue improves as their nervous­ness dis­sip­ates, and before long, they’re teasing each other good-naturedly. There’s a def­inite attrac­tion between them, but each is careful not to spoil it by making a wrong move. The film really catches fire as the two attend a gal­lery event the next evening. At a party after­ward, they sep­arate, Charlie chat­ting ami­ably with strangers about nothing much, and Jamie having a ser­ious con­ver­sa­tion with her friend Robin about Robin’s fear of intimacy. In her friend’s halting speech, com­plete with more adoles­cent “likes,” we see how far Jamie has moved in just a short time. When they leave the party together, it’s as if they were meant to be together, so dif­ferent do they seem from anyone else they’ve encountered. They share a lovely chaste moment of affec­tion on the subway and the film ends.

Katz’s achieve­ment is to accom­plish this in such a short space of time, and with no grand speeches or declar­a­tions of love. The plot sounds very sim­ilar to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, a film I’ve not actu­ally seen, but knowing Linklater, that film is bound to be more lofty and chatty and intel­lec­tual than this one. And per­haps less real for that reason. As a mar­ried man in my 40s, I can cringe at some of the things these char­ac­ters say, but it’s only because they’re acting within their lim­it­a­tions. Their awk­ward­ness and lack of dir­ec­tion are genuine, as is their des­perate desire to hide them beneath a layer of cool.

The cine­ma­to­graphy was gen­er­ally excel­lent, bathing Brooklyn in a warm and golden light. There were a few occa­sions where a tripod would have been wel­come, though, and a few of the camera set ups seemed a little slap­dash, but the feeling of the images was per­fect. As was the music, which was used spar­ingly and to good emo­tional effect.

I’m quite sure that Quiet City will reward repeat view­ings, and I’m looking for­ward to listening to the cast and dir­ector com­ment­aries on the lovely Benten DVD to see how Katz man­aged to turn my feel­ings around so quickly. It seems a little like magic.

Author of this review: James McNally