“Anyone who says they know this desert doesn’t, but I wish you luck.” This line stated by one of the enigmatic characters in James Noel’s “Vrem” could also be said about the film itself. Holy Fucking Shit. The notes I took while watching Noel’s third feature film look like they were written in the midst of a grand mal seizure. They mark the time in which the hunt begins for the world’s loudest kazoo creator, slow motion fights involving wall clocks break out, and impromptu interpretive dance parties commence. It’s this sort of dream logic that makes the film hard to define and impossible to pin down. As soon as you start trying to explain it, it falls apart.
After watching “Vrem”, I was so gobsmacked that I went back and watched Noel’s previous film “Omadox” (Reviewed by Rogue Cinema’s Brian Morton http://www.roguecinema.com/omadox-2014-by-brian-morton.html). That film recalled David Lynch’s “Eraserhead’ (down to the droning and successfully unsettling electronic score) in its black and white absurdist tale of a man tasked with documenting a mysterious corporation. “Vrem” utilizes sunbaked color 2.35:1 cinematography but similarly deals with shadowy dealings and secret societies. Also, both films take place in December 2025. I’m sure if an intrepid viewer wanted, they could find many parallels between the shared universes. The film is essentially about a journalist, in a case of mistaken identity, who joins a powerful and secretive council headed by a mysterious leader. While this sounds like the makings of a taut thriller it leaves out the fact that once the leader is ousted from the council he is forced to live with his knitting obsessed sister. But the film works because all the actors and crew involved seem to be totally committed to the mayhem. The opening image of the film points out the clever incongruity of the world Noel creates. He establishes the setting by juxtaposing the year 2025 being typed on an antiquated typewriter. Crucial data is stored on 3.5” floppy disks. If “Omadox” recalled Lynch, “Vrem” owes much to Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” and Richard Kelly’s much maligned “Southland Tales”.
A peculiar note about the 3 films Noel has made so far (Including his 2013 debut ‘the World’) is their running times. Experimental films like this usually clock in at 70 or 80 minutes. Noel’s all push the 2 hour mark, which can be a trial to endure with films of this nature.
So many filmmakers live in the scared middle of the road. Afraid to be too rough or strange. Too concerned with slick production and aping the current indie trends. And while Noel’s films show glimpses of forefathers like Lynch and Gilliam, with these 3 features under his belt, he has shown he is not a filmmaker satisfied with imitation. He is a filmmaker to watch, even if that means that full comprehension of his work remains frustratingly out of reach.
Look for “Vrem” but until then; check out James Noel’s previous work on Vimeo here: https://vimeo.com/vorvip