Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, the stunning debut feature from twenty-five year old writer/director Damien Chazelle, harkens back to a time when intimate, docu-realist love stories were common and the lines between film genres werenât so rigid. Chazelle's film feels both classic and thrillingly new, something we haven't seen much of since the French New Wave pioneered that kind of storytelling more then fifty years ago. Guy and Madeline is a love story set to music, scored by the jazz that he (trumpeter Jason Palmer) plays and she (Desiree Garcia) longs to share.
The set-up is as simple as the title as we're shown within the first five minutes how the couple met and that they broke up. The details are never provided. In the mean time, scenes of their interactions-a trumpet lesson, a charged and intimate subway ride-are intercut with scene of the pairs' lives apart. Madeline gets a job as a dishwasher at the Summer Shack and Guy shacks up with a girl named Elena (Sandha Khin) whose hobbies include lying about her name and picking up men in the park. Neither life is especially fulfilling and although the couple is apart, they seem to sense it.
Shot in beautiful black and white 16mm, Guy and Madeline has a wonderfully loose, hand-held spontaneity. Chazelle captures the characters' Boston environs in fleeting glances-kids playing in a fountain, street performers and flower peddlers blend together to provide the film's atmosphere of immediacy. Guy and Madeline are both adrift among the city's denizens, connected by the memories of music shared.
Holding together the shifting narrative is an original score with music by Justin Hurwitz, lyrics by director Chazelle and performed by the Bratislava Symphony Orchesta. Characters periodically break into song and dance numbers so suddenly, they catch you off guard in the middle of a scene and sweep you up in their magnetic beauty. The simple act of cleaning the Summer Shack after a shift becomes a full-blown MGM-style musical number, complete with tap dance solos on the countertops. Guy and Madeline is dotted with moments like these where it seems the pooled anxieties and frustrations of its characters cannot be suppressed any longer and burst into vibrant, electrifying life. And as soon as the numbers are completed, life returns to normal. Unlike classical musicals, there is no self-consciousness to the performances, nor any audience wink to the artificiality of the form. The feelings expressed are heart-felt and genuine. Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench is a totally unexpected and wholly welcome departure from most films you'll see this year-a truly romantic and engrossing cinematic experience.
This review was originally featured in our Frame of Mind
as it was screened during the Anaheim International Film Festival, 2010. To see the original posting please go here