Cinetopia Reviews: The Sublime and Beautiful

Greg's coverage of Cinetopia continues with his review of The Sublime and Beautiful. 

"Where's that shirt? Where'd it go?
It was here yesterday!!!"
When a film deals with topics such as drunk driving, untimely death, alcoholism, adultery, and other heavy issues, it can easily come across as melodramatic. By stating that, I mean when everything feels over-the-top, ridiculously done, and not pulled into reality.  When I heard this film dealt with these themes, I must admit I was worried. Triple hyphenate actor-writer-director Blake Robbins has never written, directed, nor starred in a film before, which made me even more worried about seeing this. In fact, I almost skipped this one over entirely.

But I’m glad I didn’t, as this is one of the two biggest surprises of the festival. Blake Robbins is a name to remember, as he nailed every aspect of the story. It’s a very quiet film, the beginning setting up each character with minimal exposition. We spend time with each character as they go about their average day. We learn that it’s almost Christmas time and the kids are excited, because they’re kids and that’s what they do. They don’t say that, though, which is an amazing thing Robbins’ screenplay does -- it doesn’t outright say anything. No kid says anything along the lines of, “Gee, I sure am excited for Christmas! Dad, I love you, you’re the bestest!” It’s filled with nuance, as are the characters, even the kids. Almost everything we learn about them is through a simple car scene where David (Robbins) drives his kids to school. He asks them questions, what they want for Christmas, share some easy, nice banter, and it’s just enough. We learn the dynamics.

Similarly done is how his relationship with his wife is shown. There seems to be a bit of a barrier between them, even during moments of affection. Nothing extreme. No behind-the-doors shout matches. Just quiet moments and glances that imply that David does not know how long they will last.

"Excuse me! Did you take my shirt?"
Films like this have me convinced that the quieter a film is, the stronger its blows are. The blow in this one is completely devastating, as are the reactions everyone has. While the funeral was dark, and Kelly, David’s wife (Laura Kirk), was literally screaming (for the most part), the quiet continued. David’s character starts traveling down a different, darker, realistic path. He starts drinking and following the man who crashed into him. Where this path takes him is relatively predictable, yet necessary to reach the stunningly beautiful conclusion. Some films reach the point this one does, but don't have the follow through.

One thing I liked was how differently David and Kelly responded to the deaths. David reacted with introversion, at first. Not apathetic of mean, but he kept everything within himself until he cracked. Kelly was the opposite, showing off the poison within herself perfectly in a great, hard-to-watch party scene near the beginning of the third act. It’s very compelling when the film cuts between the two of these juxtaposing responses.

"Hello. I'm just wondering
if you've seen my shirt."
Not everything is perfect, like it may seem. I do feel as though I have seen this film before, several times. Its execution is different, and far more effective than most of its type, but not original. A few times it does sink into melodrama, especially during the funeral scene, which is mercifully short. This is almost nitpicking, though. It’s well shot, never flashy, and always goes for the organic flavor of bleak.

The characters and acting is nuanced, the writing is organic, and the direction shoots for realism.. This type of film about quiet moments of despair is rare to come by, so I’m very glad I got to see it. If this is just the beginning of Blake Robbins’ career as a writer-director-actor, I cannot way to see where he goes from here.

The Cinetopia International Film Festival is an Ann Arbor and Detroit based film festival that took place from June 4th to the 8th where there were 110 screenings of about 50 films in 10 venues. Created for the people of southeastern Michigan, the Cinetopia International Film Festival features the best feature-length dramas, comedies, and documentaries from the world’s best film festivals (e.g. Sundance, Cannes, Venice, Toronto, Berlin, SXSW, Tribeca, etc.). The extensive festival program is selected exclusively for Cinetopia by a team that includes Indiewire Influencer Russ Collins (from the Michigan Theater) and the national “dean” of art house programming Elliot Wilhelm (from the Detroit Film Theatre). Cinetopia honors the rich heritage of cinematic culture and Michigan’s proud legacy of outstanding cinema artists through special pre- and post-film events, including presentations, discussion panels, and Q&A sessions with directors, writers, and stars.

-Greg Dinskisk