Director: Josh Safdie
Writer: Josh Safdie and Eleonore Hendricks; Josh Safdie, Andy Spade, and Anthony Sperduti
Cinematographer: Brett Jutkiewicz
Producer: Brett Jutkiewicz, Sam Lisenco, Zach Treitz, and Josh Safdie
by Jon Cvack
NOTE: I wrote this about 18 months ago before seeing either Good Time (2017), or of course, Uncut Gems (2019).
I had received Good Time (2018) from Netflix, reading about it on a few lists and watching a couple of interviews with the filmmakers. I started it up and so began the type of movie where within ten seconds I knew I was watching something incredible; so much so that I turned the film off, wanting to watch it with my girlfriend, finding it on Amazon Prime and returning the disc; never syncing up with my girlfriend as we were still trying to get through the last five Sopranos episodes.
I’m approaching an age where my generation of filmmakers are starting to come to fruition. Ari Aster’s Hereditary (2018) served as a fantastic debut from the 30-year-old filmmaker, 32-year-old Damien Chazelle is at the top of Hollywood with Whiplash and LaLa Land, and I’m now discovering that the 32-year-old Safdie’s have just released their fifth feature.
They have a fascinating though mysterious story in that after graduating from Boston University, they were approached by Partner & Spade to create a commercial. They were provided a $200,000 budget, in which they produced the commercial for 10% of that and took the rest to make The Pleasure of Being Robbed, opting to shoot on film and making you understand how they spent a $180,000 on a 65-minute mumblecore film. It would premiere at SXSW and win the Grand Jury Prize, and so their careers were launched.
The Pleasure of Being Robbed is about a kleptomaniac Eléonore (Eleonore Hendricks) who wanders the streets of New York, stealing people's purses and bags. In the opening scene, she approaches a random woman on the street, acting like they know each other, hugs her and say they should hang out, before walking off, bag in hand. I get the feeling that this was actually a random woman they approached rather than an actor, which is genius. She then steals a man from Fifth Avenue’s bag as his doorman helps him unload the car, taking it back to her apartment along with a bag full of kittens. Later she steals some grapes from a fruit stand and somewhere between all this, she plays in a ping pong parlor.
We then get into the meat of the story when she steals a pair of Volvo car keys and bumps into an old friend Josh (Josh Safdie) who helps her track down the car and drive her home. They spend the night together and she leaves the next day, heading to a park where she conspicuously snoops through a mother’s apartment who screams for help. Eléonore gets arrested and the cops stop at a zoo where she begs them to let her visit for ten minutes, which for some reason one of the cop grants, gets booked and then released and that’s it.
The Pleasure of Being Robbed came out at the peak of mumblecore, offering a story that’s more of a slice of life, in which a shaky camera and mumbling characters are combined into a meandering narrative; often excused when compared to the New Wave or Rossellini's post-war work, as though just because it’s rough, shaky, and handheld with no plot, there’s a need to celebrate it.
While Eléonore was an interesting character, I knew no more going into the film than coming out. I’m not sure what I was supposed to learn other than that there are some weird people out there with complex personalities. It’s not a bad movie, it just blends in with all other mumblecore filmmakers - early Duplass brothers, Joe Swanberg, and Andrew Bujalski. Few of their films are bad, but many of them blend together; in which it’s more about individual images and moments than the grand narrative or style. Perhaps that’s the point. If pressed, given their down to Earth personalities and humor, it almost feels like the Safdie's pulled a fast one on the film world; to make us think we were watching something heavy and profound, when it was all meant to be meaningless. Then again, when I'm pulling the credits, I notice Benny's name is not on any of the film, so maybe he was the missing ingredient.
BELOW: Weird though prescient scene of where the Safdie's would go
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