Life comes with possibility, one can make choices, but one must ultimately face the results. Upstate, a sublime and poignant exploration of what could have been and what can become, shows a sensibility very in touch with modern relationships of all sorts. Directed by Katherine Nolfi and Andrew Luis, this feature in the Narrative Competition at The 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival is a fun, entertaining, and thoughtful film that will move audiences beginning with its World Premiere on Monday June 21 at 7:45pm, followed by additional screenings on the 24th and 25th, will all screenings going on at The L.A. Live Regal Cinemas.
In its tempered, even, yet surreal examination of what could have been, Upstate follows Liz, a young woman visiting an old friend Steve, who is now married to a lovely and sophisticated older woman Olivia, at their country home in upstate New York. Liz, played with grace and a quiet strength by Iracel Rivero, is coming off of an introspective period she was stuck in following the death of her mother. An uneasy situation ensues, taking a lighthearted, but pointed look inside these three characters who all begin to reflect on the past. The old feelings between Liz and Steve, played by Max Arnaud with warmth and charm begin to surface, much to the chagrin of Olivia, portrayed with subtlety yet strong presence by Suzan Mikiel Kennedy, who begins thinking about her own choices and how things could be. Trips to the Shaker Museum, hikes in the forested mountains, hanging out at the fair, and many other endeavors allow the characters to look at their lives and how they could do things differently, and more importantly, what they may have overlooked as something they are happy with. It is also great in this film how the meaning and story are not shoved in your face, so to speak. The filmmakers allow the audience to make their own interpretations of the actions and words they see and hear coming from the screen.
Upstate mines that uncomfortable area of old friends getting married and how the new husband or wife dynamic works. Friendship between men and women has always been a tricky area, but it seems to be getting easier and more accepted. This is the realm prodded and explored by Nolfi and Luis so exquisitely, showing an understanding and knowledge of male/female relations that can illuminate your life when you see this film. Nolfi and Luis have also found success with Upstate by staying true to life, as the most powerful sequences of the movie for me were between Liz and Sylvia, being able to see a friendship blossom is a beautiful thing. From experience, many of my female friends, including my wife, say it is much more difficult to make friends as we get older, making Liz and Sylvia’s all the sweeter. The vulnerability one must show to begin to engage someone as a friend was most brilliantly metaphoric when Liz takes a bath with Sylvia in the bathroom with her. You are completely physically exposed when you are in a bath, but the art comes with the exposure emotionally that is going on in the scene. The setting, the location, the room, all were choices made by the filmmakers, nothing really seemed to be done by chance or be out of place.
Upstate does this time and again, looking deep inside what makes us all tick, and they do it with a beautiful cinematic stroke that adds the landscape and locations as characters in the narrative. Having never been to upstate NY as an adult, it was clear what all the fuss is about. It is a delightfully pastoral region, complete with soaring mountains and towering forests, quaint homes and country fairs, just the kind of place one may be able to quiet their mind long enough to find oneself. The landscape was able to become an even more powerful element thanks to the choice to shoot on Super 16mm film instead of digital, as digital would have never had the depth and warmth film provided in this case. Using the natural light available can be difficult if not impossible to do with digital, one must really use more light than with film to achieve a similar look. Digital films can look great, but for a natural outdoor and expansive setting like the one in Upstate, film is really the best choice.
Upstate was truly a triumph and a film that Katherine Nolfi, Andrew Luis, and their great cast and crew can be proud of. Look for much more as The 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival rolls on, with an impressive lineup of interviews set up for the next week, including a piece from an interview with both Katherine Nolfi and Andrew Luis about Upstate. For continuing coverage of The 2010 LAFF and other film festivals in the future, you can receive these articles directly as they are published by clicking on the “Subscribe” button at the top of this piece. You can also follow me on Twitter by searching for ericshlapack or by clicking the link below.
For more info:
The 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival
Screening info for Upstate at LAFF
My coverage of The LAFF
Follow me on Twitter