By James Kenney
Not everyone is angling to enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Myriah Rose Marquez was awarded Best First-Time Director by The Venice Fine Arts Film Festival and “Best Skate Short” at the Paris Surf & Skateboard Film Festival for her first self-written, edited and directed film, the superior “The Diary of Being Uncomfortably Comfortable,” which can be seen at Doc Weekly .
She has used her “heat” from this daring, notable debut to write, edit and direct “The Sovereign,” a short experimental “trance-film” whose lineage can be traced back to constructions by artists such as Stan Brakage, Maya Deren, Jean Genet and Jonas Mekas, following a visual dreamline that is seductive, deceptively erotic and fairly disquieting. Its protagonist, sharing the filmmaker’s name and described by her as the “central oneiric character,” navigates a reality both concrete, as represented by a handsome Southern California apartment building, and unreal, with Marquez employing slow and accelerated motion imagery, sequences shot in reverse, and evocative but unresolved digressions highlighting a possibly Native American man who is seen playing the piano in the lobby of the building (where she has acquired a new apartment that seems other-worldly to her due to her previous nomadic lifestyle) and later sitting on its stairs and guiding her onto a beach.
The film’s soundtrack is a mix of uncertain poetic rumination (that might need a stronger voice than Marquez’s to fully get across, her speaking voice is not as assertive as her visual storytelling), and “found” sounds such as an echoey archaic recording of “My Blue Heaven” and a radio DJ promoting a live music event he defines as “a stylized spring conducted by a blue-collar band,” which also aptly describes “The Sovereign” itself.
While artistic and clearly designed, “The Sovereign” (produced by Mark Gordon, Emily Lazar, Marnie Dubos and Neil Cohen) doesn’t feel too thought out; as it progresses it feels as if Marquez has not set up the incidents and images for the camera but has instead slipped into them, and then moves in and out of them at will, at least until the disconcerting conclusion. Marquez directs with a lyrical freedom and sensual eye, but it all somehow seems moored to a past she can’t escape, represented by an attractive cemetery she visits and the unidentified pursuer she runs from throughout – Marquez has a poet’s gift for using objects and landscapes dramatically—she’s somehow made a Zen Buddhist peaceful nightmare of sorts. She presents prosaic items as sensuous entities, which makes the film’s ultimate surrender to corporeal reality even more troubling.
As she deadpans early in the film “you really can rewire your reality,” but the richest component of fantasy is that you might get pulled out of it at any time – this produces the tension of the make-believe, that at some point we’ll be forced to wake up. Marquez somehow has a “nostalgia for the present” that she may or may not be actually living but also knows may be denied without notice. The film carries some of the atmosphere of mystification that prime David Lynch carries – things ostensibly benign in nature feel imprecisely discordant, and by the end of “The Sovereign” there is a futility to perhaps dreaming too intensely, but I’m not satisfied with that reading, even though it is mine.
As Marquez says in the film “I chose the van life for a number of reasons” and perhaps apartment living with its walls and closets and composure is not really what Marquez requires – her relationships with the objects and people around her are both romantically charged and tenuous. Maybe the traveler life is exactly what she needs, and the film is Marquez’s way of working through a part of herself that she incompletely understands. Marquez dwells on what she doesn’t quite comprehend and depends on her intuition and filmcraft to give her fragmented feelings body and weight – “The Sovereign” feels like a lament for the dead, but it’s not clear who or what has died.
The eerie atmosphere, stylish staging and air of haunted memory could translate into a nifty art-house psychological horror feature for Marquez if she desires to pursue it – her filmmaking isn’t sloppy or overexpressive, and it would be worthwhile to see the result of Marquez fusing her visual gifts and natural melancholy to the right kind of narrative. Driven by her quiet power and tendency to doing odd little things that catch you off the elbow, “The Sovereign” is an impressive second step in what could prove a remarkable filmmaking career.