True to the Grand Cinema’s commitment to casual class, October 4’s Opening Night Gala for the 2012 Tacoma Film Festival was a night of laid back conversation, quality cuisine, and local love. In attendance were a handful of the Festival’s contributing filmmakers, whom audience members had a chance to get to know during the pre-screening dinner, catered by Maxwell’s Restaurant and Lounge.
The Annie Wright School’s sophisticated Great Hall and Kemper Theater created a comfortable yet elegant backdrop for the night’s feature, The Taiwan Oyster, a drama/dark comedy following two expat Kindergarten teachers living in Taiwan on an improbable quest to give their dead compatriot a respectable burial.
Fed up with their aimless, pleasure driven lives, twenty-somethings Simon (Billy Harvey) and Darin (Jeff Palmioti) set out to find the perfect resting place for their “countryman,” and are joined early on by a delightful and similarly dejected Taiwanese morgue employee, Nikita (Lenora Moore).
Though Simon tries to convince the viewers of the quest’s underlying patriotism, he and his counterparts’ existential motivations soon become clear. Though their circumstances are remarkable, their propensity for self reflection and their search for life’s purpose make them relatable and likable.
Unexpected humor ensues in The Taiwan Oyster as the trio embarks on a quixotic journey, their unfortunate friend on ice in the bed of their truck. But this humor is truly graveside: we never lose sight of the pervading melancholy and the breathtaking Taiwanese countryside repeatedly heightens the characters’ experiences of foreignness and despondency.
The actors’ performances are sometimes precarious but the film’s resonant script keeps us believing – just obscure enough to feel organic, but abstract enough to be relatable and provoking. The relationship between Simon and Nikita, though awkward at times, anchors the film and convinces viewers on stay on their side.
The film’s soundtrack is a highlight, seamlessly (though unexpectedly) weaving the languid drone of Asian-influenced chanting with reimagined country western classics like “That’s How I Got to Memphis” and “Two More Bottles of Wine.” This juxtaposition artfully initiates viewers into the characters’ exotic yet nostalgic world.
Though ultimately enigmatic, the tragedy and comedy of The Taiwan Oyster reflects life’s potential for beauty as well as heartbreak, and reminds us that we can find purpose and joy even in the most unlikely circumstances.
TFF’s commitment to cultural enrichment was clear as gala attendees were given the unique opportunity to meet and greet Oyster co-writer and producer Mitchell Jarrett after the screening.
The film has already created a buzz, having made its worldwide debut at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival in March to positive reviews (http://twitchfilm.com/2012/03/sxsw-2012-review-the-taiwan-oyster.html). Though its future in the industry is uncertain, it is certainly worth keeping an eye on.
For more information on the film and its creators, check out the press kit document on the film’s webpage.