– Summary –
Director : Justin Benson + Aaron Moorehead
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker, Vanessa Bednar, Shane Brady, Vinny Curran, Francesco Carnelutti, Holly Hawkins.
Approx Running Time : 109 Minutes
Synopsis: An American fleeing recent family tragedy finds love of the most bizarre kind in a small Italian coastal town.
What we think : Hypnotic, romantic, impossibly opaque movie borders on frustrating, but ultimately rewards a patient and accepting viewer. Spring isn’t for everyone – hell, about 30 minutes in I was seriously considering switching it off! – but patience and allowing yourself to be drawn into its supernatural themes will reward those who seek a film that’s more like a moving painting than a film. Spring is just lovely.
Something about stem-cells?
I went into Spring completely blind. I saw the poster, thought it could be one of those “romantic” types I was prepared to eviscerate here on this website, but something caught my eye. The tag line for the film, which spoils it somewhat, is “Love is a monster”. Literally, they’ve put the twist on the poster. Oh well. While I’m still not sure why a film like this was called “Spring” for anything other than just hipster meta-referencing or whatnot, director’s Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead have crafted a film so poetic, so magnificently lyrical, so breathtaking in heartache and passionate repulsion, I’m inclined to recommend it purely as a novelty film if nothing else. But I can’t call Spring a novelty film, because it’s so tenderly conceived and directed, so effortlessly wonderful, I just outright loved it.
It’s the kind of experience I think people described while they watched that godawful Under The Skin, a film I detested but kinda felt this film was reminiscent of; Spring has a weird uniqueness even though it feels like a mixture of known elements. One part Before Sunrise, one part An American Werewolf In London, one part Terrence Malick’s acid trip from Hell, Spring begins with a most matter-of-fact manner possible, and ends with a shot of just pure, joyful realization. The extremes between the beginning and the end of the film are astonishing, a real cinematic journey being undertaken in a manner I felt beyond the scope of the movie about a third the way in.
Spring tells the story of American journeyman Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci), who has just lost his mother to cancer, and his job in a barfight on the day of her funeral. Fleeing the US, he travels to Italy, where, after meeting a couple of British reprobates, he finds work on a local village orchard run by Angelo (Francesco Carnelutti), and he eventually meets Louise (Nadia Hilker), whom he falls for in a big way. Trouble is, their brief, one-week fling seems destined to fail, because Louise is hiding a dark, dangerous secret that could put Evan’s life in danger.
At one point, Evan confronts Louise about her secret. He flat out asks: “So, are you a vampire, werewolf, zombie or alien?” It’s one of the best lines in the film, because if you’d witnessed some of the stuff Evan had by that point, you’d be asking the same thing. Spring has themes of a supernatural nature, but I’d hesitate calling it a supernatural film. It’s more a romantic drama in the vein of Before Sunrise, with elements of monstrous transformations occurring later in the movie that, while dark against the majority of the films’ light, punch well above the weight you expect of this film based purely on its opening.
The film begins so poorly. I mean, it really does. And while US-set sequence involving Evan and his drunken mate and a poorly shot bar-fight nearly ruined the movie for me (as I mentioned up top, I nearly turned the movie off at that point, because I figured it wouldn’t get much better), I gave it a chance, mainly because the remote control was across the room and I was too lazy to get up again so quickly. Spring hits its straps (and springs its genre trap) once Evan is in Italy, and it becomes a true work of art once he arrives in the small coastal village of Polignano A Mare, at the top of the “heel” of Italy’s boot shape. It’s a beautiful, hypnotic locale, and the directors to a superb job of giving this film a true ethereal, almost obtuse lighting palette; Spring features a lot of washed out sunrise and sunset sequences, oranges and dusky greys, that serve to elicit a dreamlike quality beyond what could be achieved with color grading and studio work.
As far as story goes, this one’s a bit of a stretch, even for a sci-fi-slash-fantasy-slash-supernatural fan like me. Louise’s genetic secret, some crazy combo of her body regenerating like the Doctor, using stem-cells from some random guy she picks up (in this instance, Evan!), and the length of time she’s been alive, is pure science fiction. At one point, you think Louise might be a vampire, or perhaps a werewolf, or something else, because the hints, glimpses and startlingly good visual effects don’t really give you a definitive answer – suffice to say, the eventual explanation takes some swallowing, and there’s little wonder the actors have to repeat it several time in order for the audience to actually comprehend it, but this inbuilt tragic half-life scenario mixed with romantic, modernized dialogue love resounded with me. I didn’t expect it to, but it did.
The cast waver between competent and, well, not-so-competent, especially in the opening 30 minutes. Lou Pucci, whose previous films include The Chumscrubbers and the recent Evil Dead remake, went to the Ben Foster School Of Method Acting by the looks of it, they have startlingly similar styles of performance. Pucci’s Evan is tormented and lost, like a volleyball in the ocean, which makes his attachment to similarly isolated Louise all the more complex and real. Nadia Hilker, who plays Louise, (and is actually German) is just… radiant. She’s gorgeous here, the kind of European pixie-minx style these films work so well with. Hilker gives Louise a hidden anguish mixed with mournful loneliness, and her treatment of Evan is, while appropriate considering her situation, at times annoying. Both of them have a great screen chemistry, however, and this translates into intimate sparks when the film needs it most.
As I alluded to earlier, Spring stumbles badly in its early moments, with a lengthy opening set-up to explain Evan’s state of mind. An early film sequence involving Evan’s small trip with two English drunkards, including foul-mouthed Mike (Vinny Curran), amounts to little other than to get Evan through Italy to the small village where he meets Louise. The film’s low-fi storytelling is remarkable good at hiding the nicely executed visual effects of Louise’s various transformations, a mixture of CG and practical that combine beautifully. So, good with the bad: the good outweighs the bad but you need to get through the bad first before you get to the good. I’m just saying, it’ll feel like a slog the first time. The ending will pay off, though.
If nothing else, if the story and the characters don’t get you, then allow yourself to be immersed in one of the most beautiful locations I’ve seen on film – the town of Polignano A Mare is sublimely stunning, set against the cliffs above the Adriatic Sea, and the camerawork here (some of which must surely have been drone operated, right?) is brilliant. Oh, my heart ached when I watched this, the film’s ability to transport me to a fantasy made real, and I just fell in love with the place. The nightmarish quality of Louise’s story notwithstanding, I’d love to go there someday, and stand where they stood, saw what they saw.
Spring is going to be a definite repeat watch for me. By the end, it had me in its claws, a palpable love flooding through me as Evan and Louise’s tragic love-story unfolded. Yes, it’s rough around the edges, and yeah, it takes its sweet time getting to where it needs to, and it does bend itself in expositional knots trying to make the key plot device work in audience’s minds, but Spring is worth the watch. It’s a poem of a film, a sprinkle of light and dark thrown against the orange hued backdrop of one of the most romantic countries on Earth. I adored this movie, in spite of its flaws.