Dir: Josh Safdie. US. 2008. 68mins.
A glance at the multi-tasking names in the credits is enough to show just how homemade New York film-maker Josh Safdie’s debut film is. And at just 68 minutes, it challenges the definition of full-length feature. But it would be a shame to hold either limitation against it, as The Pleasure Of Being Robbed is a charming indie title, suffused with the spirit of the French New Wave of the early sixties and possessed of a quirky likeability that has as much to do with co-writer Eleonore Hendricks’ delicate performance as an urban vagabond who likes to steal things just for the hell of it, as with Safdie’s sure command of tone.
Premiering at Austin’s SXSW festival before moving to its Directors’ Fortnight closing night slot, this divertissement with its Super 8 aesthetic reminds us that the best low-budget filmmaking can deliver a celluloid freshness that big productions lack. But the film’s grungy look and ultra-slim running time is bound to limit its theatrical potential. Presenting the film (as happened in Cannes) as part of a package with Josh’s film-maker brother Benny’s 13-minute short The Acquaintances Of A Lonely John could be a fix for the running-time issue, but outside of New York, festivals and specialist cineclub are still going to be the main distribution model.
Editor, co-producer and DoP Brett Jutkiewicz’s shaky handheld camera follows gamine, crop-fringed Eleonore (Hendricks) - a sort of present-day Jean Seberg - as she wanders the streets of New York, lifting a strangers’ handbag after embracing her, and walking off with a holdall which turns out to contain a dog and some kittens. Gradually it becomes clear that dreamy, carefree, live-for-the-moment Eleonore is not a standard thief: she doesn’t take money, and when she starts looking for the car that goes with the keys she’s just filched, it’s because she wants to sit in it, as she can’t drive. But her geekily cool friend Josh (Safdie) persuades her to take him home in the car - and so begins a driving lesson in real city streets that looks alarmingly authentic.
Occasionally the plot’s inconequentiality gets the better of it, but before things can drag too long events veer in an unpredictable direction.
Neither over-cute or over-long, The Pleasure Of Being Robbed is a paean to a city and those who fight to keep it on the side of non-conformity. Safdie’s debut is so lo-fi it makes the films of Hal Hartley look like Hollywood, but scratch the surface and there’s the same air of gentle New York eccentricity. The tasty soundtrack mixes indie rock from groups like The Beets with older classics - like the wistful Thelonius Monk piece that wraps this small, genial, poetic film.
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