Alejandro Adams' Canary  screens at 9:30pm on Thursday April 16th, at the Anthology Film Archives in New York. I hope other cities around the world soon have the chance to see the picture, so that their audiences too may experience this latest example of an American cinema revitalized by the nascent digital infrastructure. Ten years ago the best of this ambitious stream of moviemakers would have alienated 'indie studio' execs with their intelligence and their unwillingness to compromise god-given talent. These bosses would tell them shut-up-know-it-all and take my notes to heart or don't make a film. This one-sided exchange is, thankfully, no longer inevitable.
Adams makes cinema like he has something to prove and a system to eradicate. The story, as it were, involves "organ harvesting," which sounds punchy on press-releases and gives the bloggers an entré to the work — even though the director's fill-it-as-it's-felt approach to the subject will likely just generate remarks about 'the unusual freedom with which Adams explores his thesis.' To those figments I would only respond that freedom should not be considered so unusual. Premise here is pretense (the organs are MacGuffins), and this pretense allows a mise-en-scène to take root in the documentary-surveillance mode. The images are mostly hand-held, the shots surround the scene and proceed largely without logic, rather to provide, as cuts accumulate, the effect of the events having 'surrounded' the image. This is a flaw (because it brings to mind a friend's comments about the 'anchorless' quality of Naomi Kawase's own découpage) and a virtue (because it's of a piece with the thesis, which in Canary is atmosphere) — take it or leave it. You could say there's something similar here to the framings, cuts, and reframings in Assayas, but that the kinetic quality hasn't developed muscle tone. And this would be half-pithy, except Adams differs radically in his use of an 'acting' style that totally astonishes with its verisimilitude — and poses two questions: (1) Does the acting dictate this 'documentary' style? (2) Who will be the first to apply a quasi-verisimilitude (in the acting) to a 'classical' mise-en-scène of monumentality, of rigorous cuts to reverse-angles or that assemble into montage? (And is this possible, or even necessary?) The exception to the hyperreal performances comes in the form of the jumpsuited harvester portrayed by Carla Pauli, whose artificial demeanor underscores her 'role' as the virus in the Canary-system — the roving agent in ghost-white that activates the structure of 'episodes surveilled' which all begin as discrete vignettes and end in play-death, subtending, let's say, with the vial-expiries of R+J. Conscious theatrical flourishes, then, that indicate a world (the filmrealworld) which will determine itself. Hence "Canary" — a signal of danger's onset, stimulus urging a fast grope for the lifeline.
I didn't want to make the film sound too theoretical, but this is its structure and therein resides its actual thesis: We need hearts. But I implore you to heed this Canary first and foremost because its tour-de-force sound-mix that makes the din of conversation oceanic, because its polyglot characters who interact so beautifully unsubtitled (an aspect quickly becoming a trademark of the Adams oeuvre), because its attention to the nuances of so-specific-they're-authentic domestic ecologies (e.g., the German husband and the fluently-German-speaking-but-American-accented wife who argue about "birthday glasses" and the general upkeep of their San Jose residence), because the high-satirical hilarity of the marketing-brainstorming session, of the Santa-Canary 'funny-guy's' waiting-room interactions with a distracted toddler, and of the TV-relieved palaver between the electrolysised girl-friend duo, all add up to one of the most perceptive and pleasurable American films of Our Late Era. — ¡Olé Alejandro!
ENDNOTE: This recent interview by Karina Longworth with Alejandro Adams is well worth checking out — not least because it gives the impression Adams may be the only American filmmaker currently living who isn't ashamed of sounding smart. It's right here.