Dir: Jon Shear. US. 2000. 104 mins.
Prod cos: Day-Harris Productions, Commotion Pictures. US dist: Lions Gate Films. Prods: Jon Shear, Stephanie Golden, J Todd Harris. Scr: Shear, Daniel Reitz, from the play Urban Folk Tales by Reitz. DoP: Shane Kelly. Prod des: Karyl Newman. Eds: Randolph K Bricker, Ed Marx. Mus: Marc Anthony Thompson. Main cast: Dan Futterman, Matt Keeslar, Samuel Ball, Alan Cumming, Josh Hamilton, Lothaire Bluteau, Bill Sage, Barbara Sukowa.
Jon Shear's directorial debut Urbania somehow got lost in the snow at this year's Sundance Film Festival where it played in competition. But it is getting renewed interest with selection for the Toronto Film Festival and a new US distributor in Lions Gate Films which took it over from cash-strapped Unapix Films Theatrical at the 11th hour last week.
Dressed up in numerous layers, urban myths, stylistic tricks, anecdotal asides, random characters and red herrings, it is essentially and eventually a riveting and emotionally-wrenching tale of revenge and love hooked around a heartfelt performance by Dan Futterman. Futterman - the always excellent young actor whose credits include The Birdcage, Breathing Room and Shooting Fish - lays himself on the line here and should be watched as one of his generation's brightest acting talents.
Based on the play Urban Folk Tales by Reitz, who with Shear, wrote the screenplay, Urbania revolves around mainly gay characters searching for understanding and love while battling misconceptions, violent prejudice and AIDS. It will resonate with gay audiences in particular but has a chance to make it with general upscale audiences searching for a provocative art film in the increasingly vapid line-up of films achieving theatrical distribution around the world.
A traumatised Futterman wanders through Shear's ugly urban landscape conversing with the homeless (Bluteau), the dying (Cumming) and the homophobic (Ball) while recalling an idyllic romance with Keeslar which has somehow ended. As the movie progresses, the reasons for his state of mind and motivations becomes clearer as Shear reveals more of the past and brings us to a shattering finale.