Chilean film­maker’s take on toxic white mas­culin­ity

Gulf Times Community - - REVIEWS - By Katie Walsh

Chilean film­maker Se­bas­tian Silva is at his best when craft­ing pitch-per­fect sit­u­a­tional dra­mas that re­veal un­com­fort­able truths about hu­man na­ture. Of­ten fu­elled by sub­stances, the char­ac­ters in Silva’s films ca­reen around each other un­til a char­ac­ter’s vul­ner­a­bil­ity, in a mo­ment of height­ened emo­tion, brings the sit­u­a­tion crash­ing to the ground. His most re­cent ef­fort, Tyrel is the­mat­i­cally clos­est to his 2013 film, Crys­tal Fairy & the Mag­i­cal Cac­tus, where a cou­ple of Amer­i­can hip­pies search for a hal­lu­cino­genic cac­tus in the wilds of Chile. But Tyrel is planted firmly in Amer­ica, and it’s per­fectly Amer­i­can in the spe­cific ways it spi­rals out of con­trol.

Ja­son Mitchell stars as Tyler, who’s tag­ging along for a guys’ trip in up­state New York with his buddy Johnny (Christo­pher Ab­bott). It’s im­por­tant to note Tyler is black, while Johnny and all the other guys gath­er­ing to cel­e­brate Pete’s (Caleb Landry Jones) birth­day are white. They are white in ways they are com­pletely blind to, and Tyler (and the au­di­ence, through his per­spec­tive) can­not ig­nore them.

Silva cap­tures the in­ti­macy of the dude get­away so well it feels like spy­ing, eaves­drop­ping on some­thing se­cre­tive and pri­vate: the con­ver­sa­tions, games and feats of strength and drink of which men par­take as rit­u­al­is­tic bond­ing. It’s loose, ca­sual and ex­ces­sively chatty, but Silva’s cam­era care­fully picks out the mean­ing­ful glances, the mi­croag­gres­sions, the jab­bing re­marks, the jokes that toe the line of de­cency.

But what Silva and the ac­tors cap­ture with such aching per­fec­tion is the cul­ture of male white­ness that per­vades the band of hip­ster boys. And as the out­sider, Tyler pro­vides the ideal point of view through which to ob­serve this. There’s their ca­sual cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion, their cav­a­lier en­ti­tle­ment, but the most glar­ing in­di­ca­tion of their spe­cific brand of white­ness are re­peated sin­ga­longs to R.E.M’s clas­sic hits. Tyler’s drunken side-eye at the group scream-singing It’s the End of the World as We Know It speaks vol­umes about the men and their cul­ture.

Tyrel beau­ti­fully ar­tic­u­lates the emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing stuck at an awk­ward sleep­over, where one can be ridiculed for not par­tic­i­pat­ing or scolded for over­com­pen­sat­ing. Mitchell is ab­so­lutely dev­as­tat­ing in his per­for­mance, es­pe­cially in the mo­ments where Tyler seeks tiny respites, snatch­ing mo­ments away from the ban­ter, chaos and men­tal spar­ring. He’s read­ing Lord of the Flies, never re­al­is­ing he is in Lord of the Flies. When the wealthy, in­sou­ciant prankster Alan (Michael Cera) shows up, Tyler latches onto him as an amus­ing ally. Alan is both his sal­va­tion and his demise as Tyler spi­rals out in an emo­tional, al­co­hol­fu­elled evening.

Don’t ex­pect di­gestible les­sons or easy an­swers from Silva. His ex­plo­rations of group dy­nam­ics aren’t eas­ily tied up in a bow. Rather, he dives into the messi­ness of hu­man in­ter­ac­tion, seek­ing out those mo­ments of raw, re­veal­ing emo­tion. He wants to tease out how it hap­pens and what the reper­cus­sions are. Tyrel isn’t just per­sonal. There’s a pro­found po­lit­i­cal un­der­cur­rent that height­ens the ten­sion in the room, and the film is Silva’s most po­lit­i­cal work yet. Though it is sly and sub­tle, the in­ten­tion is pal­pa­ble, the emo­tions elicited all too real, and ul­ti­mately, Tyrel proves to be a fas­ci­nat­ing en­try in his body of work. – TNS

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