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Septien

Dir/scr: Michael Tully. US. 2011. 79mins

Septien takes the return of a long-departed brother to his family’s southern farm, and twists laughs out of a gothic formula as it mocks a truckload of clichés. This oddly clever second feature by Michael Tully has a loose hip deadpan humor that will rally the young cinephile crowd at festivals and in its US release.

Septien avoids the Mumblecore flatness that might be expected on such a low budget. Textures vary from painterly close-ups to sports scenes that play like television vaudeville. 

Other English-speaking territories are possible markets, and international festival exposure could take it wider. Still, the reach for Septien, like its budget, is relatively small. 

Septien opens as black-bearded Cornelius (Tully) returns after 18 years away to the farm where his two brothers live  - a backhanded homage to the bearded stranger in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s solemn 1955 Ordet (The Word)? It’s not clear why he left, or why he’s back, but with fussy motherly Ezra (Robert Longstreet) and the angry artist Amos  (Onur Tukel), the separated brothers bond again.

Tully’s script is as loose as everything else in this brotherly reunion. The humour can be broad. The driving event after monosyllabic Cornelius’s reappearance is the volcanic overflowing of their only toilet – foreshadowed in one of Amos’s drawings,  - and when an irascible plumber brings by his sultry girlfriend (Rachel Korine), all that hasn’t overflowed hits the fan.

As the brothers dredge up old resentments, we learn that Cornelius was a star high-school athlete, evidenced by his deadpan challenge to beat anyone at any sport, which he (Tully himself, in sunglasses and a hooded jacket) does in mute sobriety on the tennis court, the basketball court, and at the golf course trash bin pitching cans. (Septien, by the way, was Rafael Septien, a kicker in American football 1977-88. Tully also kicks a football)

Shot on Super-16mm film by Jeremy Saulnier, Septien avoids the Mumblecore flatness that might be expected on such a low budget. Textures vary from painterly close-ups to sports scenes that play like television vaudeville. 

Rachel Korine, (wife of Harmony) has a tempting composure as Savannah, the ageing football coach-turned plumber’s young companion, who is emboldened to flirtation whenever she senses jealousy from her graying husband.  Too old to be jailbait, she still heats up the uneasiness on the screen.

Tully is comfortable enough with his own material that he doesn’t overplay gags. His parodies are odd enough to have a comic freshness, even in the well-traveled field of gothic mockery.

Besides Tully’s sextuple threat, other surprises in Septien are the drawings done by brother Amos (drawn by Onur Tukel himself). Their erotic grotesquery in a palette of pinks and greens seems haunted by the German expressionist Max Beckmann (1884-1950). 

Production company: Nomadic Independence Pictures

US Distributor: Sundance Selects / IFC Films

International Sales: George M. Rush, 1415.393.8005

Producers: Brooke Bernard, Ryan Zacarias, Brent Stewart

Executive Producers: Andrew Krucoff, Robert Longstreet

Screenplay: Michael Tully

Cinematography: Jeremy Saulnier

Production Designer: Bart Mangrum

Editor: Mark Vives

Main Cast: Michael Tully, Robert Longstreet, Onur Tukel, Mark Darby Robinson, Rachel Korine, Jim Willingham

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