FRONTIER (director/writer: David Zellner; screenwriter: based on the novel “Froktog” by Mulnar Typsthat; music: Precarious Warehaus Dwellars; cast: David Zellner (Frontier Soldier, Leader), Wiley Wiggins (Frontier Soldier, Crippled), Nathan Zellner (Outpost man, Gemini), Stephanie Wilson (Spouse of Crippled Soldier); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Nathan Zellner; Film Threat; 2001-USA-in Bulbovian with English subtitles)
“It’s probably one of those films where you had to read the original in Bulbovian to know the real deal.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
David Zellner (“Plastic Utopia”) is the Austin-based experimental filmmaker who, with the help from his also twentysomething producer/actor brother Nathan, based this absurdist political satire on the surrealist novel “Froktog” by Mulnar Typsthat. It creates a fictional “Bulbovian” language (an indeterminate mixture of what could be German, Russian, and gibberish) for the fictional eastern European country of the same name, and makes it into a foreign film with English subtitles. This last act of artistic integrity sends a message that the Brothers are not about to compromise their art to make it easier viewing for those who will never watch a foreign film because of the subtitles (though I wonder if it was really worth it!). The Brothers go all the way to bring the discerning viewer (most likely a young hipster not swayed by the politics of either Republicans or Democrats) a taste of their inspired and totally wacky visions. It begins in unknown territory that not even Kevin Brownlow ventured with his “It Happened Here (1966) and Winstanley (1975).” But Brownlow’s films were substantial in political context and instead of shooting for humor, had more politically subversive aims in mind. The Brothers are more engaged in nonsensical comedy and keep their politically subversive views hidden in the simplistically inane plot line. But they are faced with the old problem of doing parody without allowing the film to get stuck on one-note. The Brothers were not able to do that satisfactorily, I’m afraid, and will reach only a small audience of hardcore indie movie geeks willing to wade through these overloaded comedy bits to reach the outer boundaries of such questionable madness. But that’s not to totally discredit the engaging attempt at Orson Wellsian type of Mr. Arkadian humor that runs through the quirky characterizations and strange narrative. It’s all there, but their unique deadpan humor doesn’t always come through in the translation. It’s probably one of those films where you had to read the original in Bulbovian to know the real deal.
The film is staged as an epic saga in the aftermath of the Klornsthog Revolution, where it follows a pair of former soldiers, the dogmatic zealot leader (David Zellner), growing impatient with the home office and its failure to openly communicate with him over the phone, and the wheelchair-bound invalid (Wiley Wiggins), who differs from the leader by soon going native. In a moment of evangelical-like healing power, the crippled soldier regains his lost physical ability and discards his wheelchair. The war-torn soldiers, now working for the Bulbovian Expansionist Research Corps, travel across the rugged frontier land for their downtrodden country of Bulbovia. They aim to civilize the almost unpopulated wild frontier and create a new home for themselves. In the countryside, the soldiers meet a strange loner (Nathan Zellner) living in a machine shop shack. Unable to explain his presence to the leader, who already claimed the land for himself, he’s nevertheless sworn into service to work for the homeland and keep an eye out for strangers–turning his shack into an observation post. The seemingly retarded individual, actually suffering from amnesia, goes back to keeping track of his sanitary habits, watching live crickets exit from his mouth and the unexplained experiments with pulleys that he’s occupied with. He does this through the diary he struggles to keep.
While making his way through the wild landscape, the former invalid discovers his wife (Stephanie Wilson) has sold their twins to join him. But she’s rejected. In her frontier wanderings she comes across the weird loner and begs him to let her be his woman, satisfied that he’s a Gemini. The weirdo lets her reside on the outside of his cramped shack, but the pushy Scorpio leader soon discovers her and uses his political muscle to force her to become his bride even though she resists this attempt. These war-torn soldiers and their efforts to be colonizers, only ends on the same uncertain note of madness where it began–but this time the leader, now the sole representative of the homeland, is engaged in a political dialogue with a cow rather than with the invalid.
This film school type of work was shot on digital video over 14 days on the site of an East Texas ranch.
REVIEWED ON 6/11/2005 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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