Starring Eamon Speer, Mark Fernandes, Gary Devirgilio, Tom Morwick, Raymond Turturro, Paige Ambroziak, Sam Charny, P.J. Cross
Directed by Paschal Santschi
Most low-budget films go the horror route, and while the intro to The Arriviste features a dude getting his hand chopped off, it is quickly apparent that the goal is something other than gory trash. The Arriviste is a mystery crime film, and one that is perhaps more interesting for its backstory than its actual contents. The Arriviste is special in the realm of low-budget, independent filmmaking because Paschal Santschi, the man behind nearly everything in the film, chose to shoot the picture on 35mm film. But wait, isn’t that cost-prohibitive for an indie movie? Usually it is, but by shooting on leftover film from other productions (an old trick used by many budding filmmakers) and by cutting the film’s crew to basically just himself, he kept the total cost for the production just under $10,000. It’s a remarkable feat and is worthy of praise just for the fact that he did it. What’s impressive about The Arriviste though, is that it actually manages to be a good film too! This is an accomplishment in and of itself, as most truly independent productions (as this is) are amateurish at best. The Arriviste remains professional and the 35mm looks great throughout, making for an enjoyable, twisty little movie.
As I mentioned above, the film opens with a man, William, getting his hand chopped off. This sets into motion a cascading series of events involving William’s unfound dead body that doesn’t let up until the final frame. Our main character is Nick, the brother of William, a simple guy doing his best to live out a small existence in his minuscule apartment as he counts off the days of his probation. William left him a note and some keys to an apartment, leading Nick to start an informal investigation into finding his brother’s body. Along the way he comes into contact with a colorful cast of unsympathetic characters that seek to obstruct his way however they can.
These characters are really where The Arriviste is lacking the most. I don’t mind that they’re all unlikeable (even Nick, the “hero”); it’s more that they’re all fairly flat. While the film still entertains and is enjoyable despite this, it leads to the viewer not developing any sort of connection to most of the characters, thus resulting in a somewhat forgettable film. There’s also so many characters that, coupled with the twisting narrative, the viewer is more concerned with keeping up with the proceedings and keeping track of who’s who than they should be. So I think for me a few less characters would have worked better.
I can’t get down on The Arriviste too much though, because it’s just so damn impressive from a filmmaking standpoint. Having shot my own films on Super 8 and having been the entire crew myself, I genuinely understand the work that went into this film. The sheer amount of man hours that must have gone into this production is staggering. Santschi did all the sound effects work himself in his apartment after principal photography was done. Every paper shuffle, every footstep, it’s all him. And what’s truly remarkable about it is just how professional and seamless a lot of it is. Many of my favorite films were initially shot without sound (most Shaw Brothers, Spaghetti Westerns, etc.) and in terms of the sound effects work, The Arriviste is usually indistinguishable from a sync-sound production.
Where the dubbing does become somewhat apparent at times is the dialogue. Many lines are perfectly done and it’s impressive just how well it matches, but sometimes (and even Hollywood productions have this problem) it’s just never going to sound natural. In addition to this, many of the actors give strained, wooden performances that betray the 35mm visuals and remind you that this is a bunch of random people making a movie. But honestly, for what it is, the quality is still much higher than expected and I’ve honestly seen a lot worse acting in some of the horror movies I’ve reviewed here over the last couple of years.
So enough beating around the bush… the 35mm looks fuckin’ great. Santschi is pulling my heartstrings by using the format, especially in this age when even the people with the money to use it are choosing digital formats. The choice to go with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio is also an inspired one, adding one more layer of professionalism to the production. The copious nighttime locations allow the full grain of the 35mm film to be ever-present during the film, lending the movie a 70s quality rarely seen outside of the era. Where film companies and studios have actively sought to make finer grained film in an effort to eliminate it all together (and the move to digital does just that), The Arriviste revels in it and bathes in its wonderful gritty splendor. In case it’s not obvious enough, I LOVE FILM GRAIN.
Where the budget shows through the most is the scenes when dialogue gives way to quick action, be it a small scuffle or a bum being hit with a glass bottle. As a student of action cinema (and even more so now as I’m going through all the Shaw Brothers martial arts films in order), the shooting doesn’t capture the motions of the scenes all that well and the sound effects are too muffled and unrepresentative of the action on-screen. I’m sure these scenes gave Santschi heartaches a-plenty, as matching sound effects to action has to be one hell of a task. Thankfully these moments in the film are quick and rather minor, allowing viewers to quickly forgive the shortcomings of the production and move on with the story.
I would be remiss to not mention the music, also composed by Mr. Santschi. It’s a mixture of stand-up bass and very light, jazzy instrumentation that fits the film well and adds a great texture to the film. There are times when the score goes more tonally comical, and in these moments I thought it was at odds with the visuals, but overall it all works rather well. This brings me to the overall tone of the film which is a mix between somber and serious & light and comedic. It’s never comedic enough to be laugh-out-loud funny, nor is it serious enough to be truly tense and dramatic. It simply is a mixture of the two, and once I accepted it for that I was able to forgive what I felt to be tonally odd music at times. There was one moment in the film that I did burst out laughing at: a small, darkly comedic moment on a subway, so it does deliver on its promise of being “cruelly comedic”, at least in part.
In the age of the regimented Hollywood “independent” film structure, The Arriviste is indie in the truest sense of the term. This is one dude doing everything, with as little money as he can get by with, pulling together a well-made, interesting film. This would be a feat unto itself, but Santschi also does it in style on rich, grainy 35mm film. It’s truly amazing that he was able to pull off a film as successful as this with so little. The film feels like a throwback to a time when film was king, and quality editing mattered. Despite all of the issues where the budget shows through, The Arriviste is an entertaining film and I definitely recommend it to anyone who fancies themselves a fan of truly independent cinema. I dislike the term guerrilla filmmaking, but The Arriviste is about as true of an embodiment of the term as you’re ever likely to find.