'Retrograde' Is Barely a Movie, and It's Great Directed by Adrian Murray

Starring Molly Reisman, Sofia Banzhaf, Bessie Cheng, Meelad Moaphi, Dean Tardioli, Erik Anderson
'Retrograde' Is Barely a Movie, and It's Great Directed by Adrian Murray
For his second feature film, Canadian writer and director Adrian Murray tests the boundaries of just how mundane and ordinary a movie plot can be. Retrograde tediously follows an insufferable 20-something Toronto woman from the moment she's issued a traffic violation ticket to the matter's inane resolution. And it's kind of brilliant.

When we first meet Molly Richmond (Molly Reisman), she's sitting in her car that's pulled off to the side of the road with her new housemate, Gabrielle (Sofia Banzhaf), in the passenger seat. Molly is eventually charged with reckless driving, which she adamantly protests, believing the police officer who pulled her over to be at fault for her perceived wayward vehicular maneuvers. Across the film's scant 74-minute runtime, we watch Molly go through each step of fighting this ticket (and I do mean each and every step) in the most literal slice-of-life film I can ever recall watching.

In between Molly sending an email to Court Services Ontario, lining up at the court house to officially register her dispute, and meeting with the prosecution and a judge, we're shown her daily comings and goings. She goes to work, where she forgets to send emails and makes her case for the multiple days off she requires for her ticket appeal. We also witness the growing tension between her and Gabrielle — initially due to their varying degrees of belief in Western astrology, and subsequently because Gabrielle tells Molly she can't be a witness in her case as she didn't actually see anything due to the houseplant on her lap.

Across the board, the performances have a deliberate, blundering quality that works really well within the film's atmosphere. Leading the small ensemble is Reisman, who is positively exquisite in making us hate and love her all at once. Reisman imbues a remarkable amount of realism to Molly, occupying that prickly space between a sharp know-it-all and a sympathetic young woman simply figuring out who she is. From contorting her face into a steely gaze that will stop a moose in its tracks to her overly syrupy tones when dealing with her housemate's dirty dishes, Reisman puts forward an incredibly well-rounded turn.

There's a subtlety to Retrograde that almost makes it not feel like a movie. There's no score or soundtrack, enabling the natural hums of an office space and home to take over; this is particularly effective in scenes shot in the office lobby when Molly's telephone conversations can be heard echoing off the walls. The camera takes a purposeful voyeuristic eye, with plenty of stationary long shots that linger just enough to make us feel like we're standing in the corner, awkwardly watching Molly's life.

The coherence between Murray, cinematographer John Palanca and editor Marcus Sullivan elevates Retrograde from being a quirky indie to a genuinely clever piece of filmmaking. By ensuring the camera lacks any dynamic quality, we quietly watch Molly move about in her world. Some shots are blocked in such a way as to visually exclude characters who are speaking, introducing a neutral perspective for the audience towards any tension in the room. Supplementing the cinematography and camerawork are Sullivan's clever (and at times, abrupt) cuts, emphasizing the comedy of familiar situations where it isn't obvious a laugh can be earned.

Retrograde reminds me a lot of one of my favourite novels, Stoner by John Williams. Nothing extraordinary happens in either story and yet, both tickle a part of the brain that feels the need to tear apart and analyze the most banal life events. The biggest difference is that while Stoner feels downtrodden and pessimistic, Retrograde allows for irritated laughter. There's also the distinct possibility that I enjoyed Retrograde because Molly is frighteningly close to who I was during my 20s. Who am I kidding — I'm still that annoying smartass. (Withdrawn)