There’s a wonderful sequence in GREEN EYES (2013) that may well be one of my favorites of any film I’ve seen. In it, Jamie (Dasha Kittredge) is telling Nic (Tom Wesson) a dark but colorful story about stealing her mom’s credit card and descending into a horrible turn of events, and the result is a moment of magic in a world that been portrayed as otherwise very bleak. As the sequence cuts back and forth between surreal-exaggerated flashbacks, the lighting is just perfect, Rob Sbar‘s musical score peppers in little moments of whimsy, and every time we cut back to Jamie telling her story in the present, Matt Rosen’s camera is focused on her green eye. In the hands of a lesser cinematographer, this framing could come off as awkward and unflattering, but as executed, it is a truly haunting closeup. I bring up this arresting sequence because it is was at this moment that I most connected with GREEN EYES, and realized that despite its large cast of characters and sprawling scope across time, it ultimately was Jamie’s story.
GREEN EYES is a new indie film, written and directed by Jack Gattanella, which recently premiered at The Queens World Film Festival in Jackson Heights, where it was nominated for the Audience Award. The film tells the story of Nic, who is still coping with the death of his girlfriend in a car accident. Having slept with Jamie when she had been dating his best friend Glenn (Zack Abramowitz), Nic blames himself (as do a few others around him) for having caused Jamie’s emotional state leading to her death. Through his cousin Rannie (Tali Custer) he meets an impulsive and drug-addicted woman named Ingrid (Audrey Lorea), and jumps into a sexually-charged but loveless relationship with her. The film cuts back and forth between the Nic & Ingrid and Nic & Jamie relationships, as well as focuses on a few eccentric supporting characters. In addition to this feature-length story, Gattanella made a prequel film in 2004 entitled INFIDELIO, which told the story of Glenn first discovering Nic and Jamie’s affair, though the same characters were portrayed by different actors. Looking at GREEN EYES and INFIDELIO as a single work, what you have is a large novel, akin to a great Russian narrative like ANNA KARENINA transported to New Jersey. The film jumps through time in a stream of conscious style, painting a large tapestry of interwoven lives, many of them living in hurt. Gattanella’s direction reminded me at times of Paul Thomas Anderson: throughout his control of the narrative, we sense something sinister bubbling under the surface, and he has a great relationship with his cinematographer. Rosen’s camera hovers gracefully over this labyrinth of a plot, just like Ingrid wandering through the halls of a chaotic house-party.
This is an actor’s film, but through its many performances, there are three in particular I must point out as they truly are deserving of awards: Dasha Kittredge, Suzanne Lynch, and Zack Abramowitz. As originally portrayed by Lori Finkel, Jamie seemed like a generic cheating girlfriend who I had no sympathy for at all. Now portrayed by Dasha Kittredge in the film’s strongest performance, Jamie Gold is a beautifully tragic character who has unintentionally wrecked havoc on every single life she encounters. Kittredge embodies this tragedy: this is a pathological liar filled with self-hatred, and who ultimately brings harm to every single other character in the film, yet we fully believe her innocence at every moment. Fans of HAVANA IN BUSHWICK will note that Kittredge wore the same ring in that film as she does here. As her mother Ellie, Lynch plays the sad character whom Jamie has truly hurt the most. In a scene showcasing the film’s best moments of drama, we catch a glimpse of a confused woman, and we can only imagine the years of backstory that must have existed between her and her daughter. I am shocked to see that Lynch has so few IMDb credits as she feels like a true veteran of film. Finally, there’s Abramowitz as Glenn. Originally portrayed by Eric Luszcz, Glenn came off as just a regular guy who we as the audience sympathized with. Reinterpreted by Abramowitz, Glenn Jones is slimy and controlling, even going so far as to admit he would murder Jamie if he were inebriated and later makes a shocking confession to Nic. Yet Glenn is not a simple brute but a very smart man with moments of sharp insight. Abramowitz’s energy during his breakup scene gets right under your skin, and reminded me of a young Bruce Willis. Seeing Glenn this way makes us understand Jamie much better.
The character of Nic Hizney has been portrayed by three different actors since his creation in 2004: Chris Ferro in INFIDELIO, Abe Danz in an early sample scene made for the film’s fundraising campaign, and now by Tom Wesson. Comparing these three takes on the character is like comparing James Bonds; Ferro’s Nic was cool and “one of the guys,” Danz’s Nic was quieter and more sinister, and Wesson’s Nic falls somewhere between these two. For most of the narrative, Nic is a hollow shell, unable to reach out to anyone, only observe (something illustrated by his occupation as a photographer). Nic has lost not only his purpose and identity, but also his dignity. Ingrid Carowail is an
enigma of a character who lives on pure id. She dances hypnotically at nightclubs to be gawked at by a very dashing and well-dressed young man before she overdoses and collapses, burnt out on life. She also gets the single best introduction of any character in the film: starting out as a lifeless corpse on the floor of a party and ignored by the others, she suddenly sits up into the frame as if revived from death. It’s a beautiful metaphor for the character: to Nic she will be a version of Jamie brought back from the dead, and she will wander through life like a zombie. Finally, there’s a number of other good performances rounding out the cast, including the delightful Alex Valderana as an amusing character who hits on Ingrid and shows up again at an inconvenient moment, and Matthew Rappaport as Laszlo the full-of-himself drug-dealer who lives in a very nice and well-decorated house. I found it very funny that Laszlo’s room is decorated with posters for GOODFELLAS, Notorious B.I.G., and Disney legend Howard Ashman. I can only imagine Laszlo singing songs from THE LITTLE MERMAID and ALADDIN between drug deals. Then again, maybe it’s a reference to Ashman’s song Somewhere That’s Green from LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, which could well be Nic’s leitmotif throughout the movie.
However, nothing is perfect and I do have a few criticisms of the film. Despite Ingrid having self-destructive habits, she still struck me as very smart and artistic and I honestly had a hard time believing she had flunked out of college and lived so irresponsibly. I wonder how the film would have played had Audrey Lorea and Tali Custer swapped their roles and Custer had played the sex maniac on her way to becoming a loser. I also felt more could have been done with Jamie’s “green eyes;” perhaps a scene where Nic mentions why the memory of those eyes had such an effect on him, watching over him from his dresser as he repeatedly makes love to Ingrid. Finally, I felt there needed to be several more scenes of Nic and Ingrid together as the central backbone of the story. What we got was good, but if the film really wanted to illustrate how lovelessly hedonistic the relationship was, I felt we needed a lot more. GREEN EYES is clearly emulating LAST TANGO IN PARIS at times, and while I obviously understand these filmmakers did not want to depict such a degree of nudity and sexual content, it could have used that level of raw intimacy between the two leads. I would much rather have had more scenes between Nic and Ingrid over superfluous scenes of chatty Louisa or ditzy Gini.
Yet GREEN EYES works on the whole as its heart is in the right place. The production value is a bit inconsistent, but the cinematography, editing, sound, and an especially great musical score all raise an indie film to serious storytelling with characters who have more depth than the most of what you’ll find in Hollywood films. And like any good novel, it deserved to be revisited. I have no doubt I will see new things the next time I view GREEN EYES, and I will want to watch it again and again. I really hope film distributors will take notice of this strong work, as it’s worth noting that GREEN EYES serves as a calling card for the entire New York/New Jersey indie film community. A herald of sorts, it represents the best that this emerging pool of talent has to offer.
But perhaps the best moment of the premiere was seeing Gattanella with his wife, Korey Hughes, who played a major role in the film’s production, present at many shoots, and always supportive. Filmmaking is impossible without the support of loved ones, and for a story that focuses so much on strained relationships and being unable to connect, it was nice to see the director share a loving relationship with his wife. I strongly feel that without Korey Hughes, much of this film’s production would not have been possible, and so, perhaps even more than Jamie’s eyes, it is the photo below that best represents this film: