Antero Alli's "Flamingos"

Review by Steve Mobia

Antero Alli's characters are often haunted –– their guilts, desires, and mystical yearnings are shown embodied in other realms that effect them at pivotal times of transition. Alli is a non-dogmatic mystic who has devoted himself to exploring the intersection between spiritual aspirations and daily life. If you've never heard of Antero Alli's films, don't feel bad. He's made plenty but they are only distributed by the filmmaker himself and shown on the road when he travels with them. If you're in one of the lucky cities when he happens by, do yourself a favor and take a look. Though made on a miniscule budget, they are uncompromised and completely as Alli wants them to be and usually that makes for a compelling experience.

"Flamingos," Alli's latest venture, has a simpler surface than most of his cinema conceptions. During Alli's impressive 10 feature output he has delved into multivalent science fiction with "The Drivetime" and "Tragos," in-depth poetic struggles with dreams in "The Greater Circulation," "Under a Shipwrecked Moon," and "Invisible Forest," and the aftermath of murder in his last "To Dream of Falling Upwards." In comparison, "Flamingos" feels spartan. Yet the talented performers make this an immersive experience. Familiar genre elements also make it a good entry point for those who've never seen an Antero Alli film. It captures the uniqueness of Alli's vision yet paints it with often familiar elements. Even much of the etherial soundtrack from Alli's wife Sylvi, are covers of famous torch songs (i.e. "Fever," "I Put a Spell on You," )

"It's all coming to an end. The further we are away from people, the better." Ray (Joe Estlack), a bank robber, warns of a massive solar flare that will wipe out all computers and wreck financial havoc on the world. But Ray the survivalist is also at his own wits end. His lover Zoe (Madeline H.D. Brown) is arranging money into neat piles on a motel bed after a bank heist where Ray put the tellers under hypnosis. Actually, he used a low dose of morphine to convince himself that the teller would give him money and his fearlessness evoked that response. But even though having the money to "get a fresh start" and a willing lover, he runs into a wall of resistance and uncertainty. The couple are obviously sexually attracted but in other ways very different. Ray wants children, Zoe wants none. Ray wants to live in the mountains, Zoe a commune in Brazil (presumably in the valley). Even more different is Ray's estranged wife and Zoe's twin sister Beatrice (also played by Brown), an elegant woman who dresses like a femme fatale from a Film Noir drama and who has an aversion to light. She has no need for email or television. One wonders what the home-life of Ray and Beatrice would have been like. Beatrice seeks the help of Lester (Robert Hamm) an attorney, to both find Ray, her sister and facilitate a divorce. The incredulous attorney begins to set his sights on Beatrice as a potential lover.

Most of the time we're at the Flamingo motel with Ray and Zoe. Even though this could easily become static and claustrophobic, the film never ceases to be captivating as Alli knows how to use his hand held camera to avoid repetition or torpor. Credit for this also goes to the committed performances of Joe Estlack and Madeline H.D. Brown, who improvised all the dialogue for the motel scenes and never hit a false note as lovers groping toward an uncertain future. It's an impressive result and there are even clever tricks with the lighting continuity. For instance, when Beatrice gazes out the motel's window curtain into the bright sun, her image is completely overexposed –– the glow obscuring her facial features. This might be taken as a lighting mistake until one remembers that Beatrice has a phobia to bright light. Her presumed pain of gazing out into the light mirrors a painful recollection that leads to her surprising action to follow. The bright light also evokes the light at the end of the tunnel in the "Bardo" realm that swallows all into a milky radiance and to the cataclysmic prediction of the solar flare.

Depicted in high contrast blues and oranges, the most visually arresting scenes take place in a kind of industrial concrete conduit to the afterlife. A childlike "monkey" girl (performance artist Alaska Yanada) presiding over a circular pool, seems stuck in time, as does a cloaked Bible reading man (Ilya Parizhsky) who acts as a guide to the wondering souls on their way through a tunnel toward the proverbial light. Ray in his dreams is already residing here and is seen to follow the monkey girl who may possibly represent the child he wished to raise and his violent consequence.

Much of the visceral impact of "Flamingos" is in the evocative soundtrack. Sylvi Alli (to whom the film is dedicated to) combines haunting instrumentals with atmospheric vocals. Her dark, sultry yet angelic, unmistakable voice is an essential ingrediant to any Antero Alli film and is here given full flower. Unique interpretations of classics such as "Fly Me to the Moon" contribute to the curious retro-tinged feel of the story. Also contributing to the soundtrack are Sanaa Taha, Artemesia-Black, Shake-Well and Matt Baldwin.

"Flamingos," delves into the chafing disconnect lovers often feel when contemplating their future together. It's also very funny with a light touch that is both disarming and engaging.


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