Berlinale Dispatch: Miranda July Can't Quite Read The Future
Filmmaker, writer, performance artist, what-have-you Miranda July ambled onto the scene in 2005 with her debut film, Me and You and Everyone We Know, which became a surprise arthouse sort-of smash. Since then, July has published a book of short stories, created art projects for the Venice Biennale, and put together a performance piece. She's working hard at becoming the Woody Allen of the "Meh" Generation, and she's getting closer, and not for the better, with her new picture The Future, which premiered at Sundance and is one of the competition films at the Berlinale.
In The Future, a youngish couple (they're in their mid-30s), stalled out in their careers and their relationship, decide to adopt a sick cat that will require constant care. It's never spelled out exactly why these two -- they're named Sophie and Jason, and they're played by July and Hamish Linklater -- have decided to embark on this shaky adventure. Is it a trial run for a baby? Or just a joint project that they hope will make them feel more connected to each other and the world? Neither they nor we nor anyone else knows, least of all the poor cat, who we hear in voiceover reflecting on his sad, lonely life as a former stray and counting the days until his new people will pick him up. He needs to recover for a month at the vet's, though the couple is warned that if they don't pick him up on the assigned day, he'll be immediately euthanized.
You can guess pretty early on in The Future that that's going to be a problem, because it takes Jason and Sophie forever to do anything. It's as if they're moving and talking in an underwater dream, and they have the audacity to think we ought to care about it all. Using the cat-adoption waiting period as a time to change their lives, they quit their boring jobs and try, limply, to reinvent themselves. Things happen to them; one is drawn to do something that's potentially hurtful to the other, for reasons not even that character seems to understand. July folds in all sorts of surrealist elements: A little girl digging a hole in her backyard (what she wants it for is even weirder); a man who has the ability to stop time; a security "blanket" (its actually a T-shirt) that follows its hyperneurotic owner like a faithful dog.
The Future is too self-absorbed and too boring by half; July's style of direction is so indirect that the minutes inch by with caterpillar speed. The bummer is that it didn't have to be that way. The Future is actually trying hard to be about something: The painful reality that it's impossible for us to value seemingly dull everyday routines, as well as the emotional security that often comes with them, until they're gone. And in the film's final 20 minutes, July comes close to pulling off something that feels like poignance.
Close, but no cigar. There's just too much July in The Future, and a little goes a long way. She looks like an alien flapper doll, with her arms and legs attached at slightly off angles, and the false modesty of her character's spacy observations and pronouncements comes off as a perverse kind of self-importance. Sophie and Jason moan about their not-so-horrible lives, while their potential adoptee, lonely and desperate in his little cage, waits. And waits. And waits. We know just how he feels.
Thanks to a combination of schedule conflicts and minor mid-festival exhaustion, I wasn't able to catch the Monday night screening of Hungarian slowpoke filmmaker Béla Tarr's new "short" (at least in relative terms -- it clocks in at only 146 minutes), The Turin Horse. A colleague filled me in at breakfast the next morning: "There's a man and a woman in a house," he began. "They have nothing but potatoes to eat." He paused before adding helpfully, "There's also a horse." Béla Tarr fans will, of course, want to know more -- the film has been respectfully received here. For others, that may be enough.