Dir: Steven Soderbergh.US. 2005. 73mins.
Soderbergh goes back tobasics. Not in the tricksy, star-stuffed mode of Full Frontal or Schizopolis:in Bubble the basics are the ones that really matter. A strong storylineand good dramatic structure give this quirky tragic love triangle a grip on theaudience; and a certain edgy eccentricity in both the DV camerawork and theperformances by the cast of non-professional actors make it stick in the mindafter the final credits have rolled.
It's a radical departure -or interlude - precisely because it doesn't feel like Soderbergh: what it feelslike is a first film by a promising Sundance director, a keen young Americanindependent.
Resolutely low-budget andonly just long enough to qualify as a feature, the film will not break out ofthe arthouse ghetto either at home or abroad, but it may turn out to be one ofthe more successful of the director's "homemade" projects, despite its lack ofstar power. A North American premiere at Toronto follows its first showing outof competition at Venice.
Set in smalltown Ohio, thefilm probes the moral and economic poverty that lies beneath the Americandream. This is a town of dingy clapperboard houses and style-free bars, whereeveryone is either unemployed or moonlighting.
The main action takes placein a doll factory, an anonymous box of a place where bored operatives priserubbery pink torsos, legs and heads out of metal moulds, and apply eyeballs,eyelashes, hair and other tokens of humanity.
The laconic camera documentsthis work with a sly, ironic documentary objectivity: seeing a tray of chubbylittle legs, or two rows of eyelashes on a piece of lined paper, we are left tomake out own connections between this provincial monster lab and the people whowork there.
People like Martha (DebbieDoebereiner) and Kyle (Dustin Ashley), whose friendship, if it can be calledthat, is predicated on her desperate loneliness and his post-adolescent inertia- plus the fact that she gives him lifts to work.
When pretty, manipulativeRose (Misty Wilkins) is taken on at the factory, Martha is forced to watch asRose prises the utterly passive Kyle away from her. Tragedy is unexpected whenit comes, but it helps to illuminate, in retrospect, the malaise that liesbehind the have-a-nice-day facade of this hicksville hell.
Like Todd Solondz in Palindromes,Soderbergh actually exploits the slight stiffness in the performances of hisnon-professional actors to mimic the stiff, calcified formalities of socialrelationships in the poor white Mid-West.
This is especially true ofDebbie Doebereiner's bravura account of Martha, who with her puffy, sweaty skinand little-girl eyeshadow and mascara, comes across as a grotesque, frightenedreflection of the dolls she assembles and paints.
A sparing guitar-drivensoundtrack champions the deeper currents that will eventually explode into thedrama, and Peter Andrews camerawork - which keeps drifting away from thecharacters to dwell on seemingly inconsequential details of their homes orclothes - paints a mood of helpless dehumanisation.
Mary Ann Bernard