SXSW 2017: Lane 1974
S.J. Chiro’s Lane 1974 is a gorgeously shot tale of displacement, isolation, and longing. In it, thirteen year-old Lane struggles to free herself from her ironically totalitarian hippie mother, secretly indulging in surreptitious bites of PB&J sandwiches and silent midnight fantasies about owning a house and having material possessions. Yet, as Lane struggles to indulge in modern amenities, she ends up alienating and hurting the people closest to her.
What is immediately apparent upon watching Chiro’s film is that the muted, repressive color palette mirrors the draconian, oppressive totalitarianism of Lane’s mother. It’s a beautifully simple way of communicating characterization through visuals, and the general blandness of the hues make what little vibrancy Chiro does inject into the production and costume design later on pop all the more. This carries through to the wonderfully ambiguous climax that sees a markedly more saturated wash the frame in bright reds.
The acting all around here is wonderfully subdued. But, special accolades go to all of the child actors in the film. Chiro clearly knows how to work with child actors as every young performer here manages to put out nuanced and – for the most part – intensely visual performances. Sophia Mitri Schloss is especially terrific as the frustrated and curious Lane; a girl whose whole goal in the film is – essentially – to experience that which her mother is so intent on keeping her from experiencing.
Sebastian Scandiuzzi’s cinematography, though, is the other star of the show. It’s never too active and it generally focuses on elevating and highlighting the brilliant performances on display. The framing, in particular, here is absolutely stunning. However, there are a few glaring instances of stabilization issues and, especially given how beautiful the film generally is, these instances stick out like a sore thumb.
What is also problematic is how S.J. Chiro – who also penned the screenplay – handles the climaxes of the rising action and peak of the film. All too often, they are either too damp, too ephemeral, or both. Given the caliber of some of the performances, it makes for a frustrating viewing experience at times. Just when a scene feels like it is building an emotion to a fever pitch, Chiro drops the thread. Now, this is partly an issue of directing, but Chiro also, often, leaves these climaxes with too scant dialogue.
This having been said, Lane 1974 is a surprisingly well-constructed film that lets its child actors be children – not the Hollywood writers’ version of children. It lets them be frustrated without being naïvely frustrated. It lets them be wrong without being stupid. It lets them be right even when it contradicts adult figures of authority. If you are at all interested in a flawed, but subdued character study, give Lane 1974 a chance. Just like its curious and ambitious protagonist, it may surprise you.