MSPIFF 2015: “Red Knot”

This review is from a screening at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival.

Peter (Vincent Kartheiser) and his new wife Chloe (Olivia Thirlby) are embarking on a honeymoon that is eccentric at best and ill-advised at worst: a ship set for the Antarctic Circle to aid Peter in his work as a writer. How the couple came to agree on such a trip never really gets answered in the sense that as the story progresses, you come to wonder if there was any agreement at all.

After an expectedly passionate first few days at sea, Peter becomes more and more concentrated on his work, eagerly wishing to meet with a renowned whale researcher on board. The journey renews Peter with a sense of adventure, wanting to explore something bigger than himself, and one could argue that marriage is just that. But when Chloe tries to join in on his experience and work, Peter becomes irked by it and subsequently pushes her away. She tells the whale researcher’s wife “He’s in his element, and I don’t fit in.” In such an isolated space with no alternatives of entertainment, Peter’s slights to Chloe are magnified. And when she discovers a secret he was withholding from her, the fundamental issues with their young marriage are on full display. So much so that you wonder how a couple like this would even get married in the first place.

The disbelief in such a couple is mitigated somewhat by the performances from Kartheiser and especially Thirlby. For what these characters lack in depth is partially offset by the on-screen chemistry and physical nuance the two actors bring to their roles. It is a valiant effort by the two considering the story leaves them—pun intended—without a paddle.

The ebbs and flows of their relationship are presented in a compelling fashion. In a number of scenes when Peter and Chloe argue, the camera will focus on one of their faces as they listen to their other half vehemently defend himself/herself, but the dialogue is replaced by the score from Garth Stevenson, which resembles the undertones of the sea with the occasional swell similar to the song of one of the many humpback whales we see in the picture. During these moments there is nothing that can be said to fix what needs repair. Instead we watch Chloe and Peter look out into the expanse of the Antarctic, only to realize they have nowhere to look but within.

Director/writer Scott Cohen makes artistic decisions like this throughout the film, and they elevate Red Knot above a typical marital drama into something hugely atmospheric. While his script (or treatment considering the dialogue was largely improvised) may not be as efficient as it could be (Peter’s voiceovers throughout the film come off as an aesthetically and narratively dissonant choice), the sheer visual presentation does effectively smooth out many of the film’s rough edges. The cinematography from Michael Simmonds captures the simultaneous beauty and emptiness of the end of the world, with the breathtaking vistas in the final reel leaving a lasting impact as you leave the theater. In the end not every question about Peter and Chloe’s marriage—or marriage itself—is answered. In Cohen’s post-film dedication, “for my wife,” he seems to relent that we may never have all the answers. Instead Red Knot suggests what is important is to have someone to explore with, to search for those answers together.


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