Impetus is writer’s block writ large, but not so much in the vein of a Charlie Kaufman movie. It’s more like if you left a DVD out in the sun and the movie, making-of, and director’s commentary all melted together.
If this sounds potentially disorienting, that’s largely the point. The movie is about the disorientation that follows a roundhouse kick to the spirit. The narrator (Jennifer Alleyn), who also happens to be the writer and director, tells us that she recently lost her companion of many years and, as a coping mechanism, is going to make a film. Not only do we see Alleyn go through the process of making her film, but we see the film itself, organically intertwined with the larger film. Fiction and nonfiction are muddied to the point where they almost become difficult to distinguish. Also in the mix are some unpolished interviews with a couple of Alleyn’s friends, which may or may not be staged. I honestly don’t know.
“After being on life’s losing end for so long, he’s dredged up some sticks and made a nest.”
As its title suggests, a central theme of the movie is motion—particularly that of reeling from a blow. However, the movie felt more to me like the lack of motion or pre-motion, such as when a cartoon character runs in place before taking off. A more apt title might have been “Potential Energy.” We never see Alleyn complete her film, only start and stop as actors become available and locations are found. Through the interviews with John (J. Reissner), we’re introduced to a man who’s settled into a rathole of an apartment—which probably hasn’t been redecorated since 1974—and into a devitalizing state of mind. After being on life’s losing end for so long, he’s dredged up some sticks and made a nest. The movie within the movie is about a guy (Emmanuel Schwartz)—later a gal (Pascale Bussieres), after being recast—with two dollars to his name and fewer prospects.
A movie this introspective, confessional, and schizophrenic can go one of two ways. It can be a pretentious bore to everyone but its subject, or it can tap into some universal truths that might otherwise go unnoticed in a more traditional story. Thankfully, Impetus is much closer to the latter. This is partly because of its three pillars—the film, the making of the film, and the interviews—function well as an independent story. The interviews with John, in particular, warrant a documentary of their own. This is apparent from his very first appearance, during which he attempts to put out a cigarette in a potted plant and burns himself.
“Fiction and nonfiction are muddied to the point where they almost become difficult to distinguish…”
Should the movie sound too artsy or in its own head, it’s worth noting that it does have a sense of humor, especially during the making-of segments. At one point, Alleyn is instructing her lead actor to behave like a lizard and open his mouth wide. This is important, as the movie within the movie uses a lizard as a heavy-handed metaphor for the main character. The actor refuses to do this pivotal scene, citing the inescapable fact that his jaw hurts.
My favorite film genre is the loser genre, a category I’ve had to make up for lack of the like-minded. Loser films are character-centric stories about people who are lost, self-destructive, incompetent, stagnant, or otherwise in a perpetual state of losing. Think of movies like Midnight Cowboy, American Heart, and Barton Fink. Impetus functions like a deconstruction of this sub-subgenre, which seems somewhat cruel, considering that it’s yet to be properly constructed. But that’s life for the loser genre. Kick it while it’s down.
Impetus (2019) Written and Directed by Jennifer Alleyn. Starring Pascale Bussieres, Emmanuel Schwartz, Jennifer Alleyn, J. Reissner, Esfir Dyachkov. Impetus screened at the 2019 Slamdance Film Festival.
7 out of 10 stars