Dir/scr: Ethan Hawke. US. 2006. 116mins.

Films about first love are a bit like films aboutdrugs: they risk being more interesting for those involved than for theaudience. But The Hottest State -which screened in Horizons at Venice - has the grace and resilience to charm audiences,grounding its potentially self-indulgent tale into a wider discourse about howfamily relationships impact on our later life, and the extent to which loveaffairs (especially those of actors) are dramatic performances.

With its cool alt countrysoundtrack and edgy camerawork, Ethan Hawke's second directorial outing is awell-crafted indie title, but it's also, mostly, anemotionally authentic film that will strike chords for anyone who has been 20and in love.

Hawke's first film asdirector, Chelsea Walls, was a fragile and more than a little pretentiousexercise in Beat film-making that had little or no theatrical life. The Hottest State, on the other hand,has the dramatic sinew to function on the urban arthousecircuit after further festival action (including a Vanguard slot at Toronto).

"Hi, I'm William, I'mtotally full of shit" is the main character's first line to Sara, the Latinogirl he meets one evening in a New York bar. William (Mark Webber) is a youngand mostly out-of-work 20-year-old actor, taken from rural Texas to the BigApple by his mother (a brief but enjoyable cameo by Laura Linney)when he was eight.

Despite the fact thatWilliam's initial self-assessment is spot on, intense, quiet Sara (Catalina Sandina Moreno), a budding singer, is attracted to his vulnerablevisionary side, and the two move in together beforethe week is out. So begins a passionate attachment that leads the couple toMexico, where William has a part in a low-budget film.

They consider gettingmarried, but don't; and when William gets back to New York at the end of theshoot, he discovers that Sara has cooled off and is looking for some personalspace. William takes the break-up badly, and it's only when he goes back toTexas to meet his estranged father (played by the director) that he is able topick himself up and move on.

The Hottest State exudesinfluences, from Godard (jump-cuts and edgy attitude)to Cassavetes (the improvised feel of some of thescenes) and Bukowski (the hip-wise poetic aphorismsthat pepper the dialogue and voice-overs). But it manages to wriggle out fromunder its references, bolstered by a solid script that tempers the intensity ofthe Sara-William relationship with moments of humour, as when Sara takesWilliam to snow-bound Connecticut to meet her kooky mother.

There is also a party scene,much of it shot in a single handheld take, thatfeatures a brief cameo from Hawke's friend and mentor Richard Linklater. The latter's main collaborations with the actor,Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, lurk in the background, comingthrough especially in certain borderline-pretentious lines of dialogue.

Mark Webber (People I Know, White Boys) binds the film together with his sympathetic account ofthe potentially unsympathetic William; Catalina SandinoMoreno (Maria Full Of Grace, Fast Food Nation), on the other hand,has too much impassive self-control throughout to suggest a woman swept away bypassion.

There's an original meld ofsound and vision, with NY singer-songwriter Jesse Harris' balladicscore dipping in and out of the dialogue, neatly complementing Christopher Norr's freewheeling, colour-soaked photography.

Production companies/backers
Entertainment Farm
Barracuda Films
Elixir Films
Under the Influence

International sales
c/o CAA

Executive producers
Yasushi Kotani
Taizo Son

Alexis Alexanian
Yukie Kito

Christopher Norr

Production design
Rick Butler

Adriana Pacheco Rincon

Jesse Harris

Main cast
Mark Webber
Catalina Sandino Moreno
Josh Zuckerman
Michelle Williams
Laura Linney
Ethan Hawke