“Co-op,”a student film written and directed by Max Barbakow ’11 and Jacob Albert ’11, dares you to pigeonhole it. Its cast of grotesque characters evokes Darren Aronofsky’s breakout hit, “Requiem for a Dream,” and its strange, living spaces and dark humor are reminiscent of the Coen brothers’ masterpiece, “Barton Fink.” At the same time, however, the directing duo’s process of montage and their droll minimalist tone are indicative of their own style. The film is a mix of stylistic elements that are both original and borrowed; the end result is a composite image that works surprisingly well. The dual nature of the movie’s style is fit- ting; the film is about how different pieces fit together and how they can be torn apart.
“Co-op” builds off recent examples of intersecting storylines like American Beauty, Magnolia and Short Cuts. The film follows the individual stories of the residents of an apartment building who are as divided by their demons and neuroses as they are united by them. The story is narrated by Doyle (Michael Blech ’12), a high school freshman who is left to deal with his crazy grandmother (Ruth Ber- liner), her dog and an apartment building full of lost souls. These fractured personas include Singh (Amit Bhalla ’09), a tortured intellectual, Barry (Gabe Hernandez ’07), a young doorman with aspirations for musical greatness, Esperanza (Tricia Lobo ’10), a lonely cleaning woman and Jamie (Cooper Lewis ’11), a friendly new neighbor with a secret, among others. In a series of loosely connected scenes, the characters come together within the con- fines of an apartment building, but are eventually thrust apart by their insecurity and depression.
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“You get the feeling that it’s hard to connect, and tensions arise but it’s not one person’s fault,” Albert explained.
The movie stands out by virtue of its independence. Barbakow and Albert both have an
active interest in film, but were frustrated by the outlets offered at Yale for students who didn’t fit into current academic and extracurricular offerings. Barbakow, an American studies major, and Albert, a literature major, are filmmakers, but they consider themselves storytellers first.
“Films like this aren’t made as often because they take so much time,” Barbakow said.
Albert and Barbokow said that being outside the realm of both the film studies and the art major meant the outlets available to them were few. As a result, they had to be creative.
“We did it ourselves, which gave us a lot of freedom,” Albert said.
Barbakow described the writing process as a time during which “no idea was a bad idea; everything was out on the table.” When it came time to cast the film, Barbakow and Albert faced difficulty because the majority of student actors are more theater- oriented. Rather than hold auditions, they selected actors based on the mental images of the characters they had in mind.
This film is not for everyone. It is a strange amalgam of elements that are simultaneously disturbing, disquieting and whimsical (“At its heart, it’s kind of a dark farce,” Barbakow explained), but they come together to form a kind of art that is too seldom seen among the largely performance- based landscape of Yale’s art and entertainment scene. “Co-op” is a piece that is made in the mar- gins and on the sly. Whether or not you like it, it deserves your respect, but more than that, it represents the hope for a more visible student film presence on campus. Give it a thumbs up, give it a thumbs down, but give Barbakow and Albert their dues for putting it out there. Give it a chance.
“Co-op” will be screened on Friday at 9 p.m. and Saturday at 10 p.m. at the Whitney Humanities Center.