There must be something great in the Oregon air that has inspirited film artists as diverse as Jon Jost, Buster Keaton and Gus Van Sant in creating some of cinema’s most remarkable achievements; now Aaron Katz, who unlike the others is an Oregonian by birth, can be added to the list. Do not hold against the guy that he made the insufferable Quiet City (2007); shooting in Brooklyn, New York, might bring anyone down. At most, I expected that Katz might redeem himself with Cold Weather; but he has gone and done so overwhelmingly, co-writing, directing and editing one of the richest, most satisfying and unemphatic mystery films of all time. The young Portlander, filming in his home town and in other Oregon locations, has captured a timelessness, a pure, drifting sense of metaphysical mystery, that deepens and darkens—and, surprisingly, lightens—a serviceable mystery plot.
Having dropped out of college, where he was studying forensic science, Doug moves from Chicago back to Portland, where he takes up residence on the couch in his sister Gail’s apartment, gets a job bagging ice in an ice factory and befriends co-worker Carlos, who refers derisively to Doug’s favorite fictional sleuth as “Sherlock Fucking Holmes.” Once he has read the Holmes stories that Doug lends him, however, Carlos changes his tune and also becomes a fan of the British detective. This is not the only way in which Carlos “shadows” Doug; for when Rachel, Doug’s former girlfriend, visits Portland on a job-related assignment, Carlos asks Doug’s permission to date Rachel. It’s all okay with Doug, and everyone remains friendly. In effect, the “shadow,” Carlos, jumps ahead of the substance, Doug, by drawing Doug into the mystery plot when Rachel fails to show up for a date of theirs. Carlos is frantic over Rachel’s “disappearance,” which, he is convinced, involved foul play.
We get to see the formation of Doug’s friendship with Carlos, to which both young men contribute their own openness; by contrast, Doug’s relationship with Gail is an authentic sibling relationship, steeped in long, loving and knowing experience: when Gail demands that they switch places in the front seat of her vehicle because she doesn’t trust her brother’s driving skills, he complies without attitude—a very funny, humane moment. Indeed, there is an “openness” to almost every aspect of this extraordinary film, and it contrasts with the “story,” the mystery plot, which is neatly “solved”—although “openly,” that is, largely by hocus-pocus. Bring your Keatsian negative capability to your viewing of this film; it will be far more helpful than any deductive skills you may have picked up from reading Conan Doyle.
Cold Weather is a spacious film, its visual aspect diffuse and in soft colors (Andrew Reed is the superlative cinematographer), its natural mysteries pervading everything and encapsulated in the thrilling waterfall in the Columbia Gorge—perhaps a cockeyed allusion to the redwood trees in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). Its finely acted, believable characters seem to exist at crossroads of humanity and Nature, fact and mystery. Mystery: Watching this film, one keeps coming back to that.
A soul: One needs this, and ready access to it, to appreciate this gorgeous, shimmering, nurturing work of art.
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