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AFI Film Festival 2011: The Color Wheel and Green

Carlen Altman and Alex Ross Perry, co-stars and co-writers of The Color Wheel

The cream not just of AFI's Young Americans section but of the entire festival, The Color Wheel finds Alex Ross Perry moving from stoned tinkering with Gravity's Rainbow and the history of the war film in his first feature, Impolex, to a scattershot tumble through classical drama by way of American film history. Again, Perry has little reverence for taste or tradition — this is a film where a character wears a shirt bearing the question "Who farted?" while reading the Bible. Perry thus is free to modulate between road film, screwball comedy, family drama, chamber romance and Stillmanesque social vivisection (confirming this as a genre unto itself and finding heretofore unknown depths of the Kafkaesque in it).

Perry and co-writer/star Carlen Altman are Colin and J.R., the most loathsomely lovable brother-sister duo in the history of cinema, and the film is both their comedy and their tragedy. Indeed, its chief accomplishment is its final discovery that these two sides of their relationship are not just inextricable but the same.

Which isn't to say that The Color Wheel is a downer to watch. Perry and Altman's thousand-word-a-minute stream of zingers, delivered in their beautifully paired voices (she's the bass, he's the treble), is more purely entertaining than anything Sorkin or Mamet has ever written — it's no coincidence that Altman's character shares a name with the titular hero of Gaddis' triumph of dialogue. But it's also here that the film locates the heart of their existential crisis, for just as the image's sheet of grain the densest I've ever seen: the first pointillist film? obscures the image, so does the joy of listening to these two voices hilariously waging their petty battles obscure the depth of their loneliness. They both know they're too much of a shit to ever be loved, so the comfort of the enemy will have to suffice.

Perry appears briefly in the opening minutes of Sophia Takal's Green, as part of a conversation among Brooklynites on the merits of Roth and Proust that sketches the dynamic of the relationship between Genevieve (Kate Lyn Shiel) and Sebastian (Lawrence Michael Levine), intellectual types heading into self-imposed exile in the barren lands of central Virginia so that he can try his hand at farming. Upon their arrival local yokel Robin (Takal, complete with ludicrous Southern accent) edges her way into their lives, and the three descend into a psychosexual ménage à trois played out in hallucinatory HD.

The film's slow simmer and sudden, brief explosion of sexual energy are both its greatest strengths and its crucial flaws: The force of this vector of desire reduces everything to such exquisite rubble that it'd be nice to stick around and play in it for a while.

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American Film Institute, AFI Mark Goodson Screening Room

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