Those seeking a raucous, wholly improvised 21st-century “Annie Hall” need look no farther than Eugene Kotlyarenko’s ultra-indie “A Wonderful Cloud.” Featuring the filmmaker himself as a transplanted New Yorker in Los Angeles and his real-life former g.f., actress Kate Lyn Sheil, as the visiting ex he can’t get over, the film trots out a succession of weirdos and encourages them to spin their alienated angst or trendy imbecility around the mismatched couple as they explore an implausible future together. This freewheeling, sometimes scatological comedy owes more to truth than wit but, not devoid of charm, could catch on.
Katelyn (Sheil) flies out to L.A. to obtain the signature of her ex-lover Eugene (Kotlyarenko) on papers transferring his half of their jointly held clothing venture over to her. Eugene, on his side, harbors hopes of rekindling their affair, though his first stabs at intimacy include taking a dump with the bathroom door open and providing a running commentary on the process, punctuated by graphic sound effects. Eugene tries too hard to be offhand and funny, fudging the circumstances of his L.A. life in awkward avoidance of old sore points in their relationship. Filled with anarchic, almost manic energy by Katelyn’s arrival, he jumps up and down on the bed naked in the absence of any more coherent expression of his confused emotions.
Katelyn, uncertain and wary, torn between feelings of friendly familiarity and longstanding frustrations, films everything on her cell phone in an attempt to gain some distance from the demands that crystallize around her. The self-parodying couple reconnect and re-flounder, on self-consciously slippery ground as they renegotiate their affection through a succession of encounters with L.A. oddballs.
Eugene’s friends, a collection of highly individualized misfits, almost seem to represent various aspects of his personality, taken to caricatural extremes. There’s self-proclaimed artist Vish (Vishwam Velandy), affable sex fiend and masturbator, and Lauren (Lauren Avery), still mourning a years-ago breakup, alternately caressing and stabbing a honeydew melon with a Magic Markered approximation of her long-gone lover’s face. Joy (Rachel Lord), Eugene’s current neurotic squeeze, is more present in her absence, as when she defecates on all of Katelyn’s shoes in a jealous rage.
Katelyn, meanwhile, attending parties of the rich and entitled, gathers a gaggle of more socially acceptable dingbats, like the bitchy, plump blonde (Tierney Finster) who disses everyone in sight, or the water-cocktail entrepreneur (Niko Karamyan), passing around his latest concoction with full descriptions of its health benefits. A meet-up with Paulston (John Ennis), a silver-haired, ascot-sporting couturier straight out of central casting, dangles the promise of fashion success should Katelyn move to L.A., the final ironic blow to Eugene’s hopes of reconciliation.
Though highly improvisational and slapdash a la mumblecore, Kotlyarenko’s pic proves more anarchic and satirically energetic, showcasing individual actors almost like performance artists. “A Wonderful Cloud” reps the continued reworking of themes Kotlyarenko explored in previous work: His ambivalent relationship with Sheil received a thorough airing in his feature “Skydiver,” an amalgam of separately broadcast webcam episodes. His fascination with technological forms of communication, which constitutes the very visual fabric of his debut feature, “0s & 1s,” pops up here in the cell-phone footage that opens and closes the film, and in the full-screen fictional Skype conversation between Eugene his real-life Russian mother. But these stylistic intrusions function merely as other aspects of the contemporary L.A. scene, as the film synthesizes immediacy and distance into a more fully integrated, linear narrative.
Film Review: 'A Wonderful Cloud'
Reviewed at Technicolor, New York, March 6, 2015. (In SXSW Film Festival — Visions.) Running time: 81 MIN.
A Dirty Pictures, BTW co-production. Produced by Brande Bytheway. Executive producer, Christian Rosa.
Directed, written by Eugene Kotlyarenko. Camera (color, HD, archival cellphone), Dan O’Sullivan; editor, Benjamin Moses Smith; music, Johnny Paul; production designer, Joan Howard Lee; sound, Jake Viator; re-recording mixer, Jason “Frenchie” Gaya; associate producers, Kate Ly Sheil, Smith, O’Sullivan.
Eugene Kotlyarenko, Kate Lyn Sheil, John Ennis, Vishwam Velandy, Rachel Lord, Lauren Avery, Niko Karamyan, Tierney Finster, Elisha Drons.