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  • TBC
  • Drama
  • 2007
  • 78 mins

Quiet City

Quiet City


Writer-director Aaron Katz's second feature finds quiet spaces of intimacy amidst the noise of New York City


Add the improvised no-budget naturalism of John Cassavetes to the slacker sensibilities of early Richard Linklater, update them to the noughties, and you get the micro-movement in American independent film known as 'mumblecore', as practised by Andrew Bujalski (Funny Ha Ha), Jay and Mark Duplass (The Puffy Chair), Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes The Stairs) and Aaron Katz.

While, strictly speaking, the characters in Katz's second feature Quiet City do not mumble, they do inflect their every utterance with a panoply of ums and uhs and likes and you-knows that can at times overtake the substance of what they are saying.

This is of course a reflection of the way people genuinely speak, so that it forms part and parcel of the film's naturalism; but it also shows characters struggling to articulate sublime insights about their banal circumstances, which is to say that all the verbal hesitancy is an essential element of the film's poetic rhythms. And if naturalism and poetry sound like strange bedfellows, then accordingly the film is concerned, even at the level of plot, with intimate yet unconsummated relationships.

Jamie (Fisher) arrives by train in New York City late at night, let down by her flaky friend Samantha who was supposed to meet her, and utterly lost. She runs into local Charlie (Lankenau) who, lovelorn and jobless, is himself a little lost, and the two strangers share the next 24 hours lollygagging around in each other's company - at a late-night cafe, at Charlie's apartment, in Samantha's empty apartment, at a city park, at an art gallery and with various friends who wonder aloud what the precise nature of the couple's relationship can be.

Quiet City unfolds a mood of contradiction and paradox. Much as Jamie and Charlie share a wine that is "pretty bitter - and kind of sweet at the same time", this is a quiet, contemplative film set in one of the most notoriously noisy cities in the world, about an intimate, even intense, connection - but without any sex.

Here, the chaste love of the chivalric romances is transplanted to the metropolitan noughties, so that Katz can both explore the non-sexual aspects (companionship, comfort, closeness) of modern love, and protect his film against sexually-transmitted cliches of the kind criticised by Jamie's friend Robin (Hellman).

In the end, Quiet City is not unlike Before Sunrise (1995), but the setting - a beautifully shot, almost supernaturally still autumnal New York - is both more and less alien than Linklater's Vienna, the dialogue feels less contrived and the expected sexual climax is replaced with something altogether more restrained, delicate and (literally) touching.

Here expressions like "sleeping in the bed of", "lying on top of" and "spending the night with" are stripped of their sexual overtones, and intercourse, though certainly present, is strictly verbal. Cynics might feel that, like Charlie, Katz himself, is trying "to devise a plot to where we can basically do absolutely nothing and get our bills paid" - but in fact, for all its apparently aimless minimalism, Quiet City dares to take a refreshingly multi-faceted approach to human contact, where so many other films reduce its possibilities to wham bam thank you, ma'am.

Subtly scored by Keegan DeWitt (with musical elements that are all drawn from the world of the film itself), Quiet City places its human characters within dark, desolate urban spaces that perfectly reflect their drifter sensibility. For this is, ultimately, a mood-piece, where heart and soul are discovered in the most ordinary of urban environments, and in the most implausibly modest of circumstances.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Cris Lankenau, Erin Fisher, Tucker Stone, Sarah Hellman, Joe Swanberg
  • Director: Aaron Katz
  • Screen Writer: Aaron Katz, Erin Fisher, Cris Lankenau
  • Producer: Ben Stambler, Brendan McFadden
  • Photographer: Andrew Reed
  • Composer: Keegan DeWitt

In a nutshell

Quiet City may be modest in budget and muted in its ambitions, but for anyone who imagines that truly independent American cinema is dead, this most chaste of romances is a quiet film worth shouting about.

by Anton Bitel

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