2013 Berlin Film Festival Day 7: Prince Avalanche
The festival is in a state of transition. Much of the international press is beginning to leave the city, and as the weekend nears, they are replaced with more general audience members looking to enjoy the scene. Nearly all of the films have now played at least once, meaning the press has gotten what they came for, and there are now more films in screen circulation for the general public to see. As the press events begin to wane, I find myself making the transition myself; though I plan to stay for the entirety of Berlinale, as there are still several films I want to see. There are no longer any screenings that are press only, and the theaters are taking on a more organic feel with the presence of general movie goers filling the seats around me.
I’m one of those guys that has to have a snack with a movie. I’m not sorry about this–for any of you who cannot stand the popcorn crunchers or mid-show pop-openers. And of course, I never buy from the theater concessions, choosing, rather, to collect my goods from the grocery store on the bottom floor of the neighboring mall. I’ll never forget the time I managed to sneak a whole 16 inch pizza into Rocky Balboa. Europe is ideal for bringing food into theaters because everyone carries a backpack with them where ever they go, so no one questions its presence. During the press screenings I always felt out of place with a Coke and a Mounds bar because I was one of the only one indulging. I’m sorry, but a movie isn’t a movie without snacks–especially ones you sneak in.
Now that I am back with the general audience, I am home again. I don’t have to take three minutes to quietly open my soda–which is exceptionally pressurized after bouncing around in my bag. I can pop that baby open and go to town. Same goes with the candy bar wrapper. After all, going to a movie should be an event. Even if you are hitting three or four screenings a day, this is a time to kick back, have fun, and get lost in a story for a couple of hours. I think if anyone forgets this side of cinema they are really missing out.
I like going into a movie not knowing much about it. Knowing too much sets expectations, and you can fall victim to distracting yourself during a film waiting to see if your predictions prove true or false. For this reason, I will usually follow the recommendations of friends more than I will a review. Sometimes, however, I don’t always manage to steer clear of a review or trailer if my anticipation is too hot to handle. I am, after all, only human.
Because Prince Avalanche was one of the films in which the press was combined with a general audience, I decided it would be a good idea to show up to the theater earlier than usual to ensure a good seat–and by good seat, I mean a good place in line. I showed up to the Berlinale Palast about fifty minutes before showtime, and a thick line was already forming. The group beside me had apparently partied too hard the night before, and weren’t feeling sociable, so I pulled out my phone and decided to entertain myself by reading the reviews of my colleagues. In this process, I stumbled upon a review of Prince Avalanche from Sundance, and decided to break my rule and give it a look.
As usual, it set an expectation. However, I found that the critic in this case was very off base. He declared the film to be a serious role for funny man Paul Rudd, and noted that the pacing was incredibly slow, since much of it is just the two main characters out in the woods. My perception proved otherwise.
Prince Avalanche tells the story of two men, Lance and Alvin. Lance is the little brother of Alvin’s girlfriend, which is the only reason Alvin hired him to help repair the forest roads in a fire scarred region of Texas. The two have nothing in common; Alvin prefers solitude and self-reflection where Lance craves social scenes and partying. The film plays along the usual lines of a buddy film, where the two characters eventually find fulfillment in the character aspects of their foil. It is a bumpy road, but the two reach it ultimately and the ending is very satisfying.
For those Paul Rudd fans out there who have read reviews like I did, and are upset that he will not be providing his usual antics, forget it. Prince Avalanche is hilarious. At times the humor is subtle, but you will find it there none the less. Writer and director David Gordon Green said his script for the 90 minute film was only sixty pages long, meaning he left plenty of room for improvisation of the actors, which is one of Rudd’s strong points. The banter is wonderful between Alvin and Lance, and I couldn’t help but watch the film and, at times, see the characters as children in adult bodies. Not that the humor is childish, it is quite the opposite; rather, the speech pattern is simple and poignant. Rudd commented that he felt the dialog was similar to that of a foreign film, but spoken natively in English. (It should be noted that Prince Avalanche is a remake of an Icelandic film called Either Way.) The film is engaging and keeps a solid pace. With only four characters in the entire film, the actors do a great job to carry the weight for the full 90 minutes.
Apart from the press conference for Prince Avalanche I also made it to a Talent Campus presentation on crafting emotion in screenwriting, in which David Gordon Green was a part of the panel. He gave some interesting introspect on his script for Prince Avalanche, as well as his writing process in general. According to Green, his first task is creating a cohesive story, with a solid arch and a beginning, middle, and end. This first draft story might be bland and hyper-straightforward, but he says that once he has this in place, it gives him freedom to get as weird or offbeat as he wants. Green stated that too often writers will try and write all the quirkiness into the very first draft of a script, and try to make this quirkiness an integral part of the story and characters. He warns against this, as it can create serious challenges in telling the initial story. “Once you have your solid script, your solid story,” he says, “you will never lose it, and that frees you to wander later as far as you want.” Using this process also allows Green to get the actors involved to develop their own characters, which leads to some really unique and entertaining performances.
Greens methods definitely play out in this excellent addition to his work as a fairly prominent director and screenwriter. Green noted that he managed to keep his efforts on this film largely unknown to Hollywood and the press. It was just “friends going out into the woods and making a movie.” This privacy freed Green of expectations and gave him true creative license to do what he wanted, away from external eyes. Prince Avalanche is a fresh, fun comedy that carries a solid message and story at the heart of it. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and I hope it achieves fairly wide distribution as I think it offers something for everyone.
Director David Gordon Green and lead actor Paul Rudd at a press conference.
COMING UP: As I mentioned, things are beginning to slow down a bit here at the 63rd Berlinale, but there are still plenty of films to see. Later this week is the screening of Dark Blood, the last–and never fully finished–film with River Pheonix. Also, a gold rush American western with a German spin.