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By Merle Bertrand | June 14, 2005

Sorry. Just got all caught up in the spirit of “Frontier,” the latest disturbing but side-splitting outing from those kooky Zellner Brothers.
“Frontier” is set in the mythical country of Bulbovia, an amalgam of various quaintly archaic former Eastern bloc countries. Supposedly adapted from “Froktog,” a rare, surviving literary scrap from Bulbovian author Mulnar Typshat, this film tells the story of a couple of young Bulbovian war veterans now serving in the Bulbovian Expansionist Research Corps, exploring and claiming new lands for their growing homeland.
The expedition’s pushy, protocol-driven leader (writer/director David Zellner) grows ever more frustrated and dictatorial the more distinctly uncooperative the home office becomes. Meanwhile, his handicapped partner (Wiley Wiggins) starts going native, shedding his wheelchair as well as his wife and twins back home in order to become assimilated into the native culture.
Complicating their mission is an unidentified slow-witted lug (Nathan Zellner) who wakes up in the middle of a field with an apparent case of amnesia. He eventually blunders his way to an abandoned machine shop where he amuses himself operating the machinery and keeping an exhaustive diary of his entire day’s activities.
He’s soon joined there by the handicapped researcher’s wife (Stephanie Wilson) who, having been spurned by her increasingly freakish husband, now seeks out the mysterious local for companionship. When the commander inadvertently discovers this unusual couple living in territory he’s already claimed, he embarks on a campaign of coercion designed to force the hapless woman to become his bride.
If there really is such a thing as an auteur theory, then the Zellner Brothers might make a good Exhibit A. No plot synopsis could do this twisted DV feature justice, as “plot” isn’t really what “Frontier” is all about. Just as in their critically acclaimed first feature “Plastic Utopia,” there were many instances in “Frontier” when shocked and nervous titters ripped through the theater…and no one really knew why they were laughing.
Part of it is the intensity the Zellners bring to their ludicrously deadpan humor. They created an entirely fictional language for this film, for instance; one that’s grammatically correct, phonetically constant and directly corresponds to the film’s subtitles. Then there’s their perfect sense of comic timing, both in terms of physical gags and in the deliveries of the lines. Finally, there’s the ridiculously extreme lengths these guys are willing to put themselves through to get a laugh or at least some type of reaction from jaded audiences. The combination of these elements is usually witheringly effective on viewers.
There are one or two dead spots here, but overall “Frontier” is an excellent example of how a small but dedicated group of filmmakers can make a scarily effective movie with little to no funds.
Then again, having the unique cinematic voice that David and Nathan Zellner possess, certainly can’t hurt.

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