Church Hill-based filmmaker Rick Alverson is starting to receive strong reviews for his latest film, "The Mountain," currently screening at the prestigious Venice Film Festival in competition against the likes of the Coen Brothers, Mike Leigh, Damien Chazelle, Julian Schnabel and Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos.
The movie set in the 1950s stars Jeff Goldblum and loosely is based on the life of lobotomist Walter Freeman, who traveled the country lobotomizing mostly women. The film also stars Tye Sheridan, Udo Kier, Hannah Gross and Denis Lavant and features the gorgeous camerawork of Mexican cinematographer Lorenzo Hagerman ("Amores Perros" and "Heli").
From the reviews, it sounds like a fascinating film and another huge step forward for the Richmond filmmaker who is making a name for himself as one of the most talented and uncompromising indie filmmakers in the country. This is especially noteworthy considering Alverson recoils in disgust from typical Hollywood narratives and is more interested in formal aspects of filmmaking and working to challenge audiences, as I explain in this 2015 cover story about him.
Alverson told me from Venice that the film will likely have its theatrical opening in the spring. His last Richmond premiere of "Entertainment" packed the Byrd Theatre and featured a post-screening New York Deli comedy set by Neil Hamburger, who also starred in the film. It was a memorable night, almost like watching a movie character step off screen into reality -- I've never experienced anything quite like it.
Variety had this to say in its review of "The Mountain":
"The fifth and most austerely polished feature to date from American outlier Rick Alverson, this troubling fable about a shiftless young man (Tye Sheridan) falling under the charismatic influence of a rogue lobotomist (Jeff Goldblum) in the 1950s Midwest may take clear stylistic cues from Lanthimos and Lynch, but it’s no mere exercise in oddball arthouse posing: Alverson’s serene affectations serve a stern, stark thesis about our evolving understanding of mental health, as well as America’s dubious romanticization of its heartland.
Sure to prove polarizing on the festival circuit — it’s hard to imagine that Alverson is shooting for anything but — “The Mountain” should prove enough of a conversation piece to attract highbrow distributor interest, particularly given Goldblum’s recently raised mainstream profile. The star is almost too ideally cast in a more sober spin on his mad-scientist persona, applying signature gonzo tics and phrasing to the role of a brain doctor with more than a few screws loose himself.
The Guardian called it a film "with real cinematic language" and the Hollywood Reporter noted "the whole film is gorgeous to look at ... with Jacqueline Abrahams’ production design poised between realistic sets littered with amusing vintage objects and unnaturally spare hospital wards. A dreamy feeling emanates from DP Lorenzo Hagerman’s muted browns and greens and soft focus. All the clues are there that Alverson and his co-screenwriters Colm O’Leary and Dustin Guy Defa are after bigger game than spoofing 1950s America, as the oft-refrained “Home on the Range,” crooned by Perry Como, might suggest."
Below you can watch the press conference from Venice, featuring members of the cast and Alverson: