Starring: Robin Zamora, Marissa Merrill, Bill Oberst Jr.
Directed By: Michael LaPointe
Review Written by Kelsey Zukowski
I have become really burnt out on screeners lately. Everything I get seems to suffer from terrible mediocrity. If some of these films would try to take chances, do something even slightly different, or have any purpose or point to the recycled kids-in-the-woods horror scenario, this wouldn’t be the case. Among the first minute of The Symphony, I knew this film would be the exception to those I have been seeing lately. It’s original, insightful, and filled with passion. The film takes an interesting approach to storytelling, following the standard act structure and elements, but clearly having an experimental film identity. It utilizes this without ever really feeling too experimental. It’s authentic, relatable, and engaging all the way through. The audience never has to question what is going on or if there is some abstract translation to it.
Ray (Zamora) is a self-mutilating artist who believes his life’s work of completing an album of truth is just within his reach. Ray largely uses actual clips of authentic human movements and actions, representing their humanity. It’s all about showing mankind, from the vibrant life it possesses to the pain and ultimate farewell. He cuts himself to try to find his muse, any ideas or abstract thought through a dream spawned by the pain that he can use. His girlfriend just thinks he has an obsession to his work and feels neglected. Ray can barely break away from his work, to him it’s not work; it’s the entire purpose of his life. When Ray begins seeing a homeless man who might hold the key to all of his answers to completing the perfect piece, he slowly gives himself over to him. How far will Ray go to complete this piece though and is his life worth the legacy he might leave behind?
“I cut myself, it burns so much the pain makes me hallucinate and pass out. Just to have a dream I can use. Use to make a sound for the album.”
This is one of the first spoken statements of the film. I was immediately sucked in from then on. There is just so much Intriguing material in that line of dialogue alone; meaning to self-mutilation, what can drive a person there, craving for artistic meaning through dreams, the passion and dedication to not only ones craft, but to bringing a purpose to life, something concrete that will last longer than a fragile, mortal life.
In the interest of not spoiling anything I won’t list what the last line of dialogue is, but it goes hand in hand with the quote above; both seem to summarize the film perfectly, coming full circle to the true importance of this in the end. That is something that few films can do, while seeming completely genuine rather than overbearing. It really is a perfect ending, how it had to end, challenging our main character to see how much he would really sacrifice.
Robin Zamora did an incredible job in the lead role. If it wasn’t for him committing to it so fully and bringing out this realistic character the film could have very easily fallen apart. Ray’s inner monologue helps us get inside of his mind and understand his turmoil and drive, but we really don’t even need that to empathize with him. Zamora’s facial expressions show all of the emotion that is surging through Ray’s veins at any given moment. His eyes carry it all. All of the performances were very naturalistic, but just based on comparison Zamora outshines them all.
The content and execution of a film is what really sways my opinion. I can appreciate a good looking film, but I tend to be more substance over style. However, The Symphony is the best of both worlds, the all around good film. The aesthetics are impressive, but are there not to look pretty but to compliment our character and his story. Ray’s dream world and composure in his work are where his spark lies. Thus, these are the moments that are brightly colored jarring images and an alternate state of mind. Every sound is amplified, even the seemingly mundane. To our protagonist no sound is insignificant, especially those that are pure forms of human life. Any time he is editing, there is a clock ticking away, personifying a death clock count down. It works off the question of the film, will the album’s completion or death come first? The visuals are dark and gritty, bringing us in to this dark tale full of intensity, determination, and the brushing along the edges of death.