By José Sarmiento Hinojosa
Thanks to The Idiot reads the final closing credits of Nathan Silver last feature “Soft in the Head” and one can’t help but recalling the Dostoveskian tale of absurdity, chaos and turmoil of a man with good intentions and the consequences his behavior sparks around him and the people who surround him. In this film, it’s Natalia (an exceptional Sheila Exteberria), a girl lost into the depths of her drifting mind who channels all the frustrations, fears, prejudices, misguided love and accidents from the people who orbit her carefree existence.
Kicked by her boyfriend from home, Natalia plays the role of an existential whipping top, and gets assisted by a series of people: Maury (another striking performance from Ed Ryan), a Good Samaritan who is host for a group of very particular homeless men and Hannah, a female friend with a very Jewish family (autistic brother included )
This “Jewish” element, recurrent in his filmography and also present in his film Exit Elena (2013) is not alien to Silver, who is part of an active Jewish family (his parents are usual characters in his films). The religious home and the recurrent use of Jewish paraphernalia (physical and emotional, as we are witness of a series of outstanding puns and nods to Jewish culture) brings to mind the films of Woody Allen (the cross references are remarkable – with Silver making the best out of Allen weaknesses) and other bold references, such as Phillip Roth’s novel Portnoy’s Complaint.
In the film, following a mindless set of events triggered by the happy-go-lucky attitude of Natalia (which reminds us of a less clever Sally Hawkings in the Mike Leigh same-titled film), love ignites the heart of the young Jewish man and brings out the collective lust of the several dysfunctional men living out of the endless generosity of their host Maury. Inevitably, everything ends in complete disaster -a bittersweet finale with a fantastic twist of dark humor- with Natalia bringing the whole ship to capsize, destroying the foundations of the very same collectives that tried to embrace her.
With a true independent spirit, Silver shoots with the help of his family and friends as different characters, and the trick works wonderfully. Whether in other films the amateurish quality of inexperienced performances drags the final product down, Silver is intelligent enough to exploit the best qualities of the people around him, shooting in a remarkable guerrilla style with a clever and keen eye for humor, set in the backdrop of Silver’s New York.
Soft in the Head might just be the best independent American film of 2013.
Director: Nathan Silver
Producer: Lynn Truong
Script: Kia Davis, Nathan Silver, Cody Stokes
Cinematography: Cody Stokes
Cast: Theodore Bouloukos, Sheila Etxeberría, Mark Gotbaum, Moshe Kessler, Nechama Kessler, Nick Korbee, Carl Kranz, Julie Marcus, J.W. McCormack, Ed Ryan, Melanie J. Scheiner, Jayson Simba, Bruce Smolanoff, Robert Williams-Taylor