Some films just seem to scream “indie film,” in a way that almost makes you dread the potential for pretension. If I’m being perfectly honest, I was expecting a heavy helping of heavy-handed indie filmmaking from “Regionrat.” What I got was surprisingly warm (though these moments only appear every so often in what is an overall bleak film, but like a lightning bug on a summer night, it’s the brief flashes that make them more noticeable…and more pleasant).
Based on the novel of the same name, “Regionrat” tells the story of broke and aimless Ray. After six months in Seattle, Ray returns to his black hole of a hometown, the Region, to finish out his senior year of high school. Once there, Ray finds himself sucked back into the world of destructive behaviors and hard consequences, with the help of a few friends.
“Regionrat” is the feature-length debut of director Javier Reyna. The film has made quite the splash prior to its current home at the Cannes Film Market with numerous awards recognizing the cast (London Independent Film Awards, Firstglance Film Festival) and even Best Picture wins at Barcelona Film Planet, Chandler International Film Festival, and Festigious International Film Festival.
The film is a very raw and sardonic take on youth, juxtaposed with adult tragedy. Through the eyes of Ray, we’re shown a very bleak world that is both made colorful with youthful conquest and romantic intrigues but also harshly shadowed by abuses and grim realities. The scope through which we view these things is both hilarious and heartbreaking, just what any of us may remember from our teen years. The Region is where a bright future goes to die, Ray knows it and it’s reflected in everyone around him.
Connor Williams, in the leading role of Ray, carries the entire film. Not to take anything away from the rest of the ensemble, but Williams plays a youth that is both awkward and worldly, hardened and scared. It’s a performance deeply grounded in reality and it blows everyone else out of the water. This especially is a treat, as we spend so much time in Ray’s head and in his internal monologue.
At times, “Regionrat” seems a little listless. It has a way of meandering and not finding and keeping the point – something I initially noted as a flaw, but maybe that’s the point. I still think that the film has a few directional issues and could do with tightening up the focus, but there’s something poetic about a film that wanders the way that its main character does. There are a few threads we come back to and a glimmer of resolve in the film’s ending moments. I can’t tell if it’s dumb luck or masterful filmmaking, but I very much enjoyed it. Life, death, renewal, and the journey between these things: that’s what “Regionrat” offers in both story and style.
Of all the pretentious youth melodrama floating around Cannes and other festivals, take a chance on “Regionrat.” It has grit. It also has heart.