Review by Victoria Large
Posted on 24 May 2011
Source Projected DVD
Categories The 2011 Independent Film Festival Boston
There is a scene in director Mike Ott’s new feature Littlerock that finds three characters speaking to each other in three languages: English, Japanese, and Spanish. They don’t have a common language, and there are no subtitles. The scene is, for me, emblematic of Littlerock as a whole: this is a film that is not only about cross-cultural connections but also disconnections—some owing to language gaps, others more rooted in errant emotions.
The film stars Rintaro Sawamoto and Atsuko Okatsuka (Okatsuka also co-wrote the film) as Rintaro and Atsuko Sakamoto, a brother and sister from Japan who are visiting America for the first time. They plan to visit San Francisco as well as Manzanar, where their grandfather was interned and eventually died during World War II. (This detail, while mostly underplayed, gives added heft to the film’s concerns about assimilation, alienation, and misunderstanding.) As fate would have it, the duo run into transportation troubles that strand them in Littlerock—not Arkansas, but rather a small town outside of Los Angeles. It’s in Littlerock that they meet Cory, a fast-talking, desperately friendly young man who invites Rintaro and Atsuko to an amusingly antic party in a hotel room. Rintaro speaks some English, but Atsuko does not. Still, this doesn’t stop her from agreeing to spend time with Cory and his friend Jordan, with the former developing a crush on Atsuko even as Atsuko falls for Jordan.
Ott handles the love triangle delicately, resisting the impulse to simply mock Cory’s flaky goodwill and misguided affections. And though Littlerock’s world of young slackers has some affinity with that of the California-set Bellflower, its characters hew closer to reality, complete with dispiriting jobs and discouraging TV dinners. Cory’s scattered ambitions – acting, modeling, performance art – do come across as a bit silly, but it’s hard to blame him for wanting something more than his small town life.
Littlerock explores the gulf between what its characters want and what they actually have with notable resonance, exploring a number of the ways that we try (and often fail) to construct the identities of our choosing. Actor Roberto Sanchez has a small but key role as Francisco, a Spanish-speaking worker at Cory’s father’s restaurant. One tense scene finds Francisco confronted by a group of boys who treat him as an outsider in the town where he lives. Another scene late in the film finds Atsuko and Cory speaking on the phone, despite the fact that neither of them knows what the other is saying. It crystallizes many of the film’s key themes, and it might break your heart as well. There are no easy answers to the questions that Littlerock raises, but there is value simply in dramatizing the fraught nature of belonging—in the United States or anywhere.
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