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Thread: STAND CLEAR OF THE CLOSING DOORS (Sam Fleischner 2013)

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    STAND CLEAR OF THE CLOSING DOORS (Sam Fleischner 2013)

    Sam Fleischner: Stand Clear of the Closing Doors (2013)


    JESUE SANCHEZ-VELEZ IN STAND CLEAR OF THE CLOSING DOORS

    Asperger's boy's NYC Sandy, Halloween subway walkabout

    The keenly observational little film Stand Clear of the Closing Doors (whose title immediately refers us to the NYC subway system), by New York director Sam Fleischner (Wah Do Dem), may invite comparison, on he basis of its protagonist, with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon's popular and entertaining novel, also about a teenage boy with Asperger's syndrome. The Curious Incident has been adapted for the stage and is being film-adapted by Harry Potter and Spider-Man writer Steve Kloves. But Haddon's story, and the approach to this high-functioning form of autism, is different. The Curious Incident is an inventive detective story in which we pick up clues before the boy, Christopher, does. Stand Clear is a mood piece. Fleischner doesn't enter into his protagonist's head but simply observes him and what he sees from without. The approach is external and audio-visual; the whole film is largely documentary in nature, making seamless use of found events, scenes, and people. It's an engaging and original approach, though the result is of a somewhat specialized appeal.

    Stand Clear has lovely soft images of ordinary things, an outer borough of New York, small houses, apartment buildings, empty spaces and crowded places. Ricky (Jesue Sanchez-Velez, a non-pro with Asperger's) seems at first just an oddball kid. Then he pees on the toilet without opening it up. Then he wanders off, after his mother Mari, or Mariana (Andrea Suarez Paz), an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who works hard cleaning house, finds out he didn't go to school the day before and the teacher called her. His mother cleans houses, his sister Carla (Azul Zorrilla) doesn't want to have to pick him up at his school and walk him home where they live in Rockaway Beach, Queens. Twenty-one minutes in, we enter the New York subway system, where Ricky has gone to escape after his mom has been cross with him on the phone for playing hooky, and stays for much of the duration thereafter, scenes counterpointed by his families frantic search for him. .

    By now we're already ready for the film's amiable, aimless, highly visual approach. Ricky is not non-verbal; his conversation has seemed normal. He is just non-connected. And we gradually learn that while we don't have access to his thoughts and he can't fit in, he has his own special with the world around him: his eye is a camera. Sound also becomes important, random voices and conversations, Ricky's chanting ("A Train, A Train, I Train"), the hum of the rails. His mother, worried, talks to her husband, mysteriously "working" out of state (he has lost money: gambling?), and to a school official, who just wants the boy transferred to a special school. She calls 911, the emergency number. Detectives search for the boy, to no avail.

    Still she worries, and one thing and another happens, while Ricky stays on the subway, going back and forth. Fleischner makes good use of seemingly random people and events, a boy with one arm, a man who offers a banana, a frowning kid (who may have problems of his own), a gentle and low-keyed version of a subway hip-hop performance. The whole, including the train noises and the waves washing up on the short at Rockaway Beach, the family's cuddly cat, creates a soothing, meditative effect that mitigates Ricky's mother's anxiety at his absence. But after a while Ricky starts to suffer. He can't find a restroom and pees on himself. He has barely enough for a bag of potato chips, which he devours (usually he has to be told to eat).

    Ricky's mom and sister fight, but join in sorry, swinging on swings at the beach. Back on the subway, a conversation between deaf people in sign language (subtitles) reveals people are preparing for Hurricane Sandy, while also focusing on people in the subway costumed for Halloween. Many images of feet, in the stations and in the trains. People sleeping: how many on the New York subway system in any given day are wandering and homeless, living on the trains? Mariana also bonds with a pretty Jamaican clerk Carmen (Marsha Stephanie Blake) at the shoe shop where she goes because Ricky likes to browse there.

    Finally Ricky's father (Tenoch Huerta) comes home, Ricky's spotted on the subway by one of his sister's classmates, and the parents go looking for him in a coordinated search on the A Train. They don't find him; are estranged; but then are pulled together by their shared anguish over the lost boy as the waves on the beach grow angrier, the parents more worried. Mariana enters one train car where it seems every other person wears a blue hoodie like Ricky's.

    Ricky, who does remarkable drawings of organic shapes and snakelike creatures, has been lured into the subway by the entwined red dragon symbol on a boy's jacket, a recurrent motif, whose dangerous lure away from home makes this story an Odyssey. Will he be sucked into the maelstrom of his fantasies, the roar of the trains, the dark tunnels, the onrush of waves swept up by the hurricane? Stand Clear of the Closing Doors requires some patience, but it never loses its keen sense of place and time, and its portrait of family separations and reunion is touching and memorable. Sanchez-Velez is naturally convincing, and Suarez Paz especially strong as his mother, Zorrilla spot-on in her quarrelsome interactions with brother and mother. Co-scripters Rose Lichter-Marck and Micah Bloomberg provide authentic feeling, offbeat and always unique and specific dialogue. According to Variety's Ronnie Scheib, in an understandably enthusiastic review, Fleishner's own home was destroyed in the hurricane, and he "refashioned his film mid-shoot to incorporate the superstorm." Stand Clear ably combines the personal and emotional with precise, detached observation, the images by Adam Jandrup and Ethan Palme consistently as real as they are poetic.

    Stand Clear of the Closing Doors, 102 mins., Fleischner's sophomore feature, debuted at Tribeca 2013 (Special Jury Prize), showed at Karlovy Vary, London, Athens, Deauville and other festivals. It is particularly calculated to move New York audiences who know well the sound of the subway and remember the disruption and devastation of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. Indiewire's preview clip of this film can be found HERE. Indiewire's Tribeca 2013 review by Diana Drumm HERE. Released in the US by Oscilloscope, it opens in Cinema Village, NYC, Friday, May 23, 2014.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-28-2014 at 10:30 PM.

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