Upstate – an Independent Movie about Identity, Love, Loss, and Time

Jun 25, 2010 by Tom Jones

A recent movie featured for the narrative competition category at this year’s Film Independent Narrative competition is the Independently produced movie, aptly named Upstate.

As the name implies, the movie’s location takes place in upstate New York where the movie’s three main characters get together.

The film’s story seems simple enough. Liz, played by Iracel Rivero, decides to drive from New York City to visit an old friend, Steve, whose character is played by Max Arnaud, although implied it’s not clearly stated until later that he was somewhere in-between friend and boyfriend to Liz years before.

As the plot unfolds, Steve, is now married to the character Sylvia, played by Suzan Mikiel Kennedy. The movie is set in beautiful upstate New York where the trio come to learn new things about themselves as a result of Liz’s trip. The movie’s screenplay drills deep into the characters selves, and their relation to one another.

What’s very engaging about Upstate, is that the characters all go through a host of emotional feelings that slowly emerge at first, but then penetrate like a sword as we’re able to see that Iracel Rivero’s character, Liz, due to her visit will force a change in how the character’s begin to realize that their past feelings and psychological, emotional and consciousness forces them to accept the here and now, as their collective layers are peeled away.

The screenwriter, Katherine Nolfi, intelligently wrote the script and was able to bring onto the screen these complex characters lives and feelings via the cast’s 3 main characters.

Despite the slow beginning, and a few too many up close shots and unnecessarily slow shot editing at times, we begin to become equally entranced with the character’s unconscious desires while their adult consciousness cuts through what was versus what is:

For Liz’s character, her past attraction for and toward Steve, who throughout the movie also shows reciprocal romantic feelings for Liz. Yet the rub remains that there’s Sylvia, played by Suzan Mikiel Kennedy, who quickly and efficiently challenges both to reveal to her what they’re actually doing right “in front of her eyes.”

And as it turns out, Liz ultimately confesses to Sylvia in an emotionally intelligent manner that it was “just a mistake,” what she was doing when confronted by Sylvia after a hike in the idyllic and beautiful hills of the Upstate area, where Sylvia sees and hears that Liz and Steve still have undefined “feelings” for one another. The mistake being is that Liz’s character, really has no love connection with Steve, and at the same time, Sylvia comes to the realization that it’s easier for her to accept herself, and it’s also easier for her to like herself being “older because it’s easier.” This implies a realization that chasing rainbows might be one of their common bonds. But that they have grown into a new state of reality and awareness is the main theme.

This denouement, takes place in a highly charged sexually nuanced scene after the hike when Sylvia asks, indeed practically demands that Liz strip so she can check her body for some dangerous bugs that latch onto the body from the forest.

As the scene unfolds, we’re tantalized that Syliva just might get sexually involved with Liz, as Liz is semi-clothed, which is the perfect metaphor when Liz tells Sylvia about her need to feel loved, and that for all intents and purposes, Steve isn’t the one. In other words, her inner reality is suddenly stripped of the material world.

And as Liz is sitting in the bathtub, while they’re both smoking a joint, and the aura of confrontation lifted, Sylvia informs Liz that she and Steve tried to have children, but they all ended in Syliva having miscarriages.

Below is a trailer from Upstate:

From that point, we watch as the character’s have all successfully broken through past emotional and psychological barriers:

Liz wants to find her own-self and lover outside of past unrealistic dreams

Steve has to grow up quick and deal with Sylvia’s quiet and short but swift wrath upon him for him to grow up and realize that he’s only married to Sylvia, despite his previous emotional and other connections with and to Liz.

Sylvia’s breakaway role as the agent force of change, which is just as powerful as Liz’s physical visit altered the physical, emotional, and psycholotical interrelationships among the three

Sylvia, played by Suzan Mikiel Kennedy, had the brake out role, by sourcing the exact underling truth about what is and what can never be; but simultaneously she realizes that she too, has gotten older and wiser, and the layer cake of it all it comes out seamless–yet a little bit messy as real life Upstate is real life nonetheless.

The film’s capture of the lusciousness and beauty of upstate New York, is delightful and engaging. The scenes of the vast mountains, alluring shades, hues, and colors of the area is well done and provides the viewer with the tranquil thematic setting that’s idyllic, charming and enchanting.

The scenes of the local fair at night, the Alpaca’s being briefly shown being petted by a set of brothers at the fair, and the characters visit to a real Quaker church are likewise outstanding in order for the screenplay to capture the sense of time, place and identity that Upstate living entails. Kudos to the cinematographer, Brian Feeney, for capturing the wide and small range of the Catskills, and the shots of the burnished yet light filled house that provide the viewer with an appreciation of he beauty of the house where much of the drama occurs between the characters. The lighting for most scenes are realistic and modern but not sleek. Quite an accomplishment given that an HDCam was the camera used.

As much as Upstate is very much an Independent film, and was clearly made as a labor of love,  in the end it had a complicated tale to tell and was acted and filmed well, making it a success, and we can only expect more good things in the future form the actors, Iracel Rivero, Max Arnaud, and Suzan Mikiel Kennedy, the Directors, Katherine Nolfi and Andrew Luis, and the screenwriter, Katherine Nolfi.

Upstate is an enjoyable and important work of Independent Cinema, and while not quite ready for total prime-time, it’s a solid body of work that’s portends well for those who were responsible for it to be shown at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

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