PopGap #29: Black Mountain Poets (2015)
Likely the most obscure movie I'll be watching all year, Black Mountain Poets is an independent Welsh comedy/drama that played a few festivals in the U.S., but hasn't, to my knowledge, had any formal release outside the U.K. It's essentially mumblecore: a largely improvisational character study that places a small group of actors within a rich setting, and watches as they fumble their way through it. Like most mumblecore, the quality of the film relies heavily on the innate appeal of the actors and their ability to find compelling notes of conflict with each other and introspection within themselves. Unlike most mumblecore, Black Mountain Poets is beautifully photographed, making good use of the natural light in a stunning natural setting.
Alice Lowe and Dolly Wells star as petty criminals who steal a car from two poets and then assume their identities at a rural poetry retreat in the Black Mountains of southeast Wales. Aiming to win the absurdly large cash prize for best poem, the con artists fake their way through the opening ceremonies, but they find that the rest of the weekend — which entails camping along with the other four neurotic contestants — forces them to confront their insecurities and the limiting manner in which they've chosen to lead their lives.
My plot synopsis makes Black Mountain Poets sound more focused than it is, as its affable cast struggles to mine compelling characters and narratives, forcing the audience to project their assumptions upon the movie — and wonder if the end product is anywhere close to what director Jamie Adams had in mind. With such a high-concept premise — crooks hiding among poets — one might expect a knowing peek inside a selective literary community, or a satire of the clashing lifestyles and worldviews of intellectuals and criminals, but it does neither. The small collective of characters is indistinctly composed of weak-willed worriers who don't seem to show any literary aptitude or preoccupation with poetry until the plot requires them to perform at the very end. Instead, Black Mountain Poets centers primarily on the personal issues between the assertive Lowe and the passive Wells, but it doesn't go much further than illustrating that one is assertive and the other passive. Although the direction in which Black Mountain Poets steers that generic situation is, itself, dramatically prosaic, it also opts for the common mumblecore trope of the non-ending, abruptly offering an emotional cue while the narrative is left to linger indefinitely. That this non-ending involves some of the movie's most evocative cinematography doesn't go so far as to imbue it with meaning, but leaves the impression of a better movie than it may have actually delivered.
Black Mountain Poets was brought to my Potluck Film Fest by Flickcharter David Conrad, who can be found on Flickchart under the username DavidConrad. He ranks it on his chart at #612 / 1662 (63%), placing it at #96 on his chart of 323 comedies. Black Mountain Poets ranked on my Flickchart at #2266 (41%), where it's #502 out of 885 comedies.
My Top 5 Comedies
Notes on Black Mountain Poets (2015)
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