Buster’s Mal Heart – A Fantastic Fest 2016 Review
A mountain man evades authorities and survives the winter by breaking into empty houses. A fisherman is lost at sea, sending out letters in bottles with hopes they reach the shore. And a family man works night shifts at a hotel, living with his wife’s parents as they try to save up to get a place of their own with their infant daughter. All three men are one of the same, existing at different times yet simultaneously in Sarah Adina Smith’s impressive second feature film, Buster’s Mal Heart.
It is always exciting to watch the emergence of a new and talented authority in film. Unfamiliar with Ms. Smith’s first feature, The Midnight Swim, I am even more astonished by what she offers with Buster’s Mal Heart. It is both cinematic and literary, an accomplishment not often seen in films. While I could easily point to influences such as David Lynch, David Mitchell, and perhaps a dash of Yann Martel, Ms. Smith’s voice is wholly her own, and a powerful voice at that. She weaves together a beautiful tapestry of a man’s shattered reality. It is a film that begs to be watched repeatedly to unravel the knot she has tied her lead character and, by proximity, her captive audience.
Buster the mountain man, also known as Jonas the fisherman and Jonah the family man are brought to life with a compelling performance by Rami Malek (star of Mr. Robot, which I also have unfortunately not yet seen). Portraying three versions of the same man might seem like an easy enough task, but Malek brings nuisances to each incarnation while exuding a familiarity that links the three together. Cutting back and forth between each, viewers hang on every moment, each to see how the transformations will eventually take place. A sense of dread lingers throughout, as only tragedy could cause such radical shifts in someone’s persona. Malek’s commitment to the piece is evident and speaks to its overall success. It is his first lead performance in a film, but he has the chops of a veteran and the promise of a future superstar.
When the credits started to roll, I wanted to start the film over again from the start. It is both sad and wonderful. Though its feet are firmly planted in its arthouse foundations, it lacks pretension and is entirely approachable to a mainstream audience. While I’m excited to go back and watch Ms. Smith’s first film, I am even more excited to see what she comes up with next.
Check out the trailer here.