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By Marc Lee
Daily News Editor

Have you ever passed somebody on the street and thought to yourself, “There goes the loneliest guy in the world”?

It’s hard to define why you’d think that. It’s not the clothes or the haircut or the glasses. It’s just something.

Take (to pull an example out of thin air) Thomas Lindsey, the main character in Jake Mahaffy’s WELLNESS. He’s a salesman. The kind with cheap, rumpled suits and hair that won’t stay put. Well, he wants to be a salesman.

Earnestly played by Jeff Clark, Thomas is on the road, trying to find clients for a natural product and, he hopes, impress the regional manager (played by Jake) who promises the sky in return for sky-high sales. It’s apparent that we’re watching a pyramid scheme in action, and it should be apparent to Thomas, too. But he calls his wife back home routinely, if not resignedly, to falsely report good news. He either chooses to believe in his situation, or is so desperate that he can’t see it.

“I see him as both and more,” says Jake. “Just look at what’s happening now. We are all being scammed on a historic scale, much worse and even more obviously than Thomas Lindsey. How are people reacting? Are they unaware or desperate or resigned?”

land-of-the-lostMaybe we do have our heads in the sand, waiting for something to save us: the winner of the election, a unlikely bounce in the housing market, a sudden market demand for all the old shoes in our closet. It’s less scary to pursue our own little hobbies, in the same way that Thomas Lindsey collects wasp nests, than to act on the bigger issues.

“I wanted to make a film that seems entirely artless, something relentlessly immediate and direct, and that uses the style of realism to frame the conflict between false hope and happy lies,” says Jake. “I think the power and charm of realism comes from mistaking conviction for honesty. Realism is to art what a newscaster is to truth.”

Ioana Uricaru takes a slightly surrealistic path to reality in her short, THE SUN AND THE MOON. It’s a classic tale of a couple who can’t connect. She works days; he works nights. So it’s the little things they do for each other that count.

With such solitary characters, the set takes center stage. Shot in black and white, the couple’s shabby one-room apartment reinforces the characters and their situation.

“I wanted Her and Him to be archetypal characters: timeless, but at the same time anchored in reality,” Ioana says. “We were going for a richness of accurate details to make them real, while at the same time we welcomed a certain degree of formal artificiality.”

“It was shot in three days on a sound stage, and we strived for absolute accuracy, down to the enamel kitchenware and the wooden toothbrush. And I recorded the sound ambiances in Romania, as I am convinced that dog barks sound completely different over there!”

Ruben Ostlund’s INVOLUNTARY takes on the odd man out, weaving together seemingly unrelated stories about characters who decide to face down their peers, refuse to go along with the group or step a little too far outside accepted behavior.

A bus driver refuses to continue until the passengers fess up about who broke the bathroom; a man can’t put up with his friend’s grab-assy fooling around; two teen girls find themselves in over their heads after a night of drinking. In each case, none of the characters can make themselves understood within the group.

“I wanted to show the group’s irresistible power over the individual,” says Ruben. Maybe the problem to communicate starts as soon as you get into a conflict with your group. When you don’t share the opinion of the group and don’t feel comfortable with the way you are “supposed” to act.”

If you want to take the idea of lost characters to its logical extreme, consider Evelyn Lee’s (no relation) collage short KANIZSA HILL about a man who has lost his head or, depending how you look at it, a head that has lost its man. In any case, they each go looking for the other.

Named for an optical illusion that consists of three circles each missing a wedge that seem to form an invisible triangle (trust me on this), Evelyn says her title is actually an allusion to our need for a sense of ourselves.

“There is no triangle, but for some reason we create imaginary lines allowing us to see the completed figure. I think this says a lot about ourselves as people and how we have a need for some sense of completion even though it might only be an error in our minds.

When memories, thought, and perception don’t necessarily make sense, the only thing that can make it make sense is an illusion. To be completely lost in an illusion can only occur once the self is fragmented or compartmentalized.”

Other films that mine our solitary side or our otherness include LIVERPOOL, O’HORTEN, SKIN and WORLDS APART.

With these films, the filmmakers at AFI FEST have shed a little light on that lonely looking guy on the street, satisfying your curiosity. Maybe you can see a little of yourself in him.