The River

dir. Lampela

Opens Fri Jan 2

Hollywood Theater

Finnish writer/director Jarmo Lampela's 2001 film The River has the rare distinction of being a labor of love that appears totally neglected. I don't know for sure that this film is a labor of love, but I'm assuming it is, because I can't imagine a filmmaker indulging in something like this for purposes of entertainment. Only a dysfunctional or misguided, yet utterly devoted love could produce such a glut of mediocre situations and lifeless personalities.

The River's six interconnected stories revolve around a rural paper mill town, though it should be noted that none them actually have anything to do with that potentially interesting physical and socioeconomic detail. In one, a seedy folk musician tries to get his drunk father to come back to the house; in another, a meddling young hottie tries to hook up her co-workers at a pizza joint; in another, a man comes home from work to catch his wife in the act of cheating on him. The story of a destitute woman trying to drown herself and her baby in the river bookends the film.

Lampela casts a drab and humorless pall over these unimaginative tales, which might be accurate, but doesn't make for very compelling viewing. None of the vignettes feel fully realized either, with some going on longer than they should, and others ending far too quickly. In one, a closeted gay teen thinks about ditching his secret next-door lover to go to a party... and that's it. In another an elderly lady climbs into bed at the hospital with her dying husband. It's very moving and powerful, and then the husband dies... and then somehow another ten minutes is used up as everyone just stands around.

Lampela's writing feels hasty, which at least matches The River's ugly, utterly style-less handheld digital camerawork. Going digital saves a filmmaker a relatively huge amount of time and money, resources which must be spent crafting interesting shots, angles, and set pieces (see: Chuck and Buck; The Celebration) or else the ensuing project will look like something my dad did with a camcorder. Lampela clearly spent his resources jerking off, and The River is the messy ejaculate.