RS Indie Awards 2010: Mike Ott’s Littlerock

5 stars out of 5

(Part 1 of a multipart series on the best independent films of 2010)

The state of American independent cinema varies greatly depending on who you talk to and what films you actually see. One of the strongest of the several hundred independent films worth noting this year is undoubtedly Mike Ott’s Littlerock, a beautifully composed, unique film that attempts to capture the essence of a rapidly changing (or depending on your perspective, decaying) America, through an unassuming hand-held camera and a cast of characters that brings a degree of sheer realism that makes the film truly a delight to behold.

 The plot itself is also a breath of realism that never once becomes overly mundane. What seems like a simple enough plot to execute: A brother and sister (Rintaro and Atsuko, played by Atsuko Okatsuka and Rintaro Sawamoto respectively) , both Japanese tourists, sojourn in a small California town by the name of Littlerock, while they wait for a replacement car on their way to Manzanar, and then San Fransisco. During their stay, they meet a young man named Cory Lawler and his friend Jordan[Brett Loren Tinnes, Cory Zacharia ], both potheads and drifters. While Rintaro develops an unsteady friendship with Cory, Cory falls in love with Atsuko, who in turn, falls for Jordan. Cory must resolve his troubles with some local dealers as well. After some time spent in the one-horse town, and an attempt at belaying the inevitable on the part of Atsuko, Rintaro decides it’s time to go, and the two move onto to Manzanar, where the two discover something very fundamental about the fabric of America and themselves.

What makes this plot-line so unique, however, is that Rintaro and Atsuko don’t understand English, and Cory, Jordan, and the rest of the American character speak no Japanese. Throughout the film, the characters are forced to make admirable attempts (with varying degrees of success) at understanding each other. Another linguistic wrench is thrown into the equation with Cory’s co-worker, Fransisco, who speaks Spanish, and only Spanish. The dialogues between Atsuko, Cory, and Fransisco in the rear of the Mexican Resturant where the three work are masterfully directed and well played on the part of the actors. Rintaro and Atsuko also do a very convincing job as siblings. Another beautifully acted scene is the phone call by Atsuko, in which Cory must attempt to understand Atsuko through the sad inflections of her voice. Brett Tines also gives a good effort as Cory’s partner in crime and Atsuko’s love interest.

The visuals were managed by Ott and Frederick Henry Thorton, D.P. — both of whom enhanced the experience of the film in a very, very important way – the use of hand-held compositions. The use of the hand-held camera is often a “judgment call” in many films, for hand-held and stationary cameras often produce a very different feel. One can see that a composition can be fundamentally changed by the presence of an unstable camera, and whether or not it is better or worse is usually a rather “shaky” call on the part of a director or editor. There is no universal maxim when it comes to the use of hand-cam, nor should there be. That being said, its use rarely exists on middle ground, in many situations, from a cinematographic perspective, its use its either verite, in the case of a film like Jean Luc Godard’s Breathless (1960) or (albeit unintentional) farce, like the Bourne Trilogy, filmed through the nauseatingly unstable lens of Paul Greengrass. Litterock falls into the first category, but by no means is clichéd in that sense.

 Ott’s compositions are not pastiches like Godard’s first several efforts, they are intriguing pieces of art in their own right – obvious care was taken into crafting and maintaining a tangible sense of realism – “our view” of the film is indeed ours in that sense. A final few points of note regard the editing and sound – both are used in a minimalistic sense, as if careful to break the ever-present realism and emotion that emanates so strongly from the acting and cinematography. But of course, that does not mean to force the equation that subtle by any means is signifying that any less effort or precision was enacted here – the film is solid on all levels, and this minimalism in editing and sound is more akin to the subtle ways in which our own mind “edits” information optically. That is probably my best assessment of it.

 When all is said and done, Littlerock is without a doubt one of the strongest efforts from an indie film that has come out in the past decade or so. Its great attention to detail in all regards and reverence for the realism that is uniquely cinematic hopefully wins the film every award it rightfully deserves as it travels through its festival circuit.

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About Ryan Silva
An American born cinephile writing, making films, and studying in New York City. Festival addict and student Jurist at the 2010 Rhode Island International Film Festival. Hits: moe anime and space operas. Misses: Smelly roommates and Jersey Shore

4 Responses to RS Indie Awards 2010: Mike Ott’s Littlerock

  1. Interesting. Just how can I find this film? Will there be a DVD release?

  2. Ryan Silva says:

    It’s being distributed through IFC, I believe. Or at least that what I was reading in Film Comment. I haven’t talked to Mike about distribution, but I’ll drop him an email soon to see what’s up.

  3. If it ever gets a DVD release, let me know.

  4. Thank You so much Ryan for your amazing write up. Mike just sent me an email showing me this, and I dont usually leave comments on reviews, in fact this is the first time I ever have, but this is amazing that you feel so highly of our film. Thank you sir. As far as Distribution, IFC is not distributing the film, how ever we are pursuing other avenues to get the film out to the public.

    Thank you once again!

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