BEESWAX (Andrew Bujalski, 2009)

Gradually slipping into a documentary mode, U.S. independent writer-director Andrew Bujalski’s Beeswax eventually resembles cinéma-vérité—only, it isn’t; it’s a work of fiction that aims to portray—really, capture—life’s rhythms and the close interconnections among people in a given circle of associates, friends, lovers and exes, and relatives. It is, if you will, a film about a piece of social fabric, a community-inside-a-community’s organization and relations, where everyone, studiously and with industry, is contributing to the whole without seeing the whole, like bees in a hive. Unlike in a Robert Altman film, the characters are their own community; the location of Austin, Texas, weighs in little.
     The editor, Bujalski himself, has assembled scenes that sometimes seem loose in themselves but which have been pulled taut, with one scene reflecting on the scene preceding it. This procedure begins with the film’s introduction of twentysomething identical twins Jeannie and Lauren, played by identical twins Tilly and Maggie Hatcher, friends of Bujalski for some ten years. Jeannie is shown entering and easily navigating her used-clothing boutique, “Storyville,” in a wheelchair. (What brought Jeannie to her disability, like much else in this film, isn’t disclosed; Bujalski doesn’t burden us with unnecessary information.) Hers is an image of composure, adaptability, control of herself and her environment. Enter conflict. Amanda, without telling Jeannie, has sent over Corinne to be trained as an assistant; Jeannie hides well the current tension between business partners that we glean. Amanda takes this opportunity to phone from home, further asserting herself. In the next scene, Lauren suggests to her boyfriend they should “try to break up”; she doesn’t know what she wants—or, inarticulate, at least can’t express this. The fellow makes the break-up easy. Whereas Bujalski films the Jeannie-introduction in real time, the Lauren-introduction uses an abrupt cut to signal Lauren’s discombobulation. (This may be the only film ever made that ends with such a cut! You say: “Impossible.” See the film!) The next scene shows the twins together mulling over a disconcerting e-mail that Jeannie has received from Amanda raising the specter of Amanda’s legal action against Jeannie owing to a unilateral managerial decision that Jeannie made. (But Jeannie’s imperiousness is at least partly due to the fact that their contract was written by Amanda’s father to what Jeannie sees as his daughter’s advantage!) And more: We subsequently learn that Jeannie resents Amanda for what she considers her laziness, making us realize that Jeannie would have identical difficulty with her sister, whose relative lack of industry is also transparent! In terms of the complexity of interactions, Bujalski’s brilliant film is packed.
     Sheer pleasure from start to finish, Bujalski’s third film belongs to the movement “Mumblecore” that takes up among its issues the ineptitude at communication and the selfconsciousness of today’s under-40s.
     I see films as they come to me. First, I named one film 2009’s best American film, and then another. As of today, however, Beeswax is it.

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