In publicity material the directors Lev Kalman and Whit Horn bill L for Leisure a comedy, but what's that phrase of Stephen Dedalus's? – "History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake."
L for Leisure a nightmare? Might depend on your demographic. As I see this sensual, sensorial, and psychodramatic work – one of the most exciting in the recent cinema – the nightmare is The Loss of the Innocence of the '90s – the decade when nostalgia moved to the cultural forefront as Content itself; the decade when a sense of progressiveness was pervasive within youth culture and first dates from the rise of Public Enemy, acid house, grunge, gangsta rap, and Britpop, then on through the New-Teen representations (shifting a trend born in the John Hughes movies of the '80s to the platform of syndicated television and the local Fox affiliates); the decade of the ascension of the Bill Clinton presidency; the decade when that progressive sense was itself an echo rooted, subconsciously, in the longing for the ideals and memoried set-pieces beamed out in all the insistent representations of the '60s; the decade that death-knelled with the witch-hunt over the blue dress (the decade's Altamont, which characterization alone says much about the decade) agitated by one Ken Starr, who wouldn't allow his daughter to dance with any of the Chads at Duke parties and who thereby ushered in the boogie-woogie of the New Schism that cut decisive rugs with the Florida recount and the fall of the towers.
L for Leisure unfolds in 1.37:1 16mm as ten grad-student vacations spread across ten "breaks" in '93 and '94 ("President's Day"; "Summer Break"; etc), all inflected with an idiom that sets character and locale in reverberations of '90s TV and Whit Stillman's first two features (in particular Metropolitan comes to mind, which itself played out in some indeterminate nether-era and whose arch dialogues are talked back to throughout L for Leisure – a film whose title we don't really know how to pronounce, but given this conversation I have some idea which dictionary key the filmmakers of Leisure prefer).
Period details are perfect, from the cut (and cutting) of the jeans to whatever those ridiculous hippie hemp ruck-hoodies are called, to the musings around "psychedelic sports" and biology/consciousness that tangentially touch Terence McKenna, the re-arise of Tim Leary, and the renewed interest in psychotropics at the apex of California-come-Mondo 2000. No smartphones in sight, but one beeper on Bene who laser-rays the shit out of bitches in "Future Wars"...
Which brings me to the presence of two notables: Bene Coopersmith, one of the best we've got, who anchored most of last year's short Person to Person, Dustin Guy Defa's masterpiece-to-date and another film that says as much about present-past as L for Leisure. Also: for one minute Mati Diop, the superb French actress and filmmaker who has become generously involved in co-productions like Denis' 35 rhums and Campos' Simon Killer, and whose own Mille soleils played to great acclaim at this years Art of the Real at the Film Society.
Last praise goes to John Atkinson, whose synth-pop soundtrack is some of the coolest shit in 2010s movies. I want all of these songs and I want them now, so I can stay in an L for Leisure day-daze through the summer and beyond: every film should be such a psychodrama and dream of the Ideal!