Hui (Sarah Lynn Furman) and Chamo (Victor Boneva) are poles apart. Besides being neighbours, they share nothing in common, or so one would think. Peier Tracy Shen’s Out Of Place is elusive and yet guttural in its characters and their storyline. A dual narrative that runs along the themes of loneliness, societal pressure and forgiveness, the film is a 19:39 minutes worth of cinematic penance to life’s inevitable struggles.
We hear her voice even before we see her: it speaks with anxiety for an upcoming exam. We see her fingers trace the keys as she practises non-stop: the veins standing out against her pale skin dipped in the iced water. Hui is an aspiring pianist, a Chinese in the States chasing that elusive dream like all other immigrants. Chamo, her neighbour, is a labourer, a house-painter and a Mexican immigrant. Both run their course, their lives neatly placed side-by-side, as if compartmentalising this way would make the society accept their longing any easier and offer them their wilful place.
As we see their lives play out, we know more about them, how different their lives are, how similar their struggles are. Chamo, who is married, is dealing with crisis at home, back in Mexico. His roommates who are well aware of it, are mostly sympathetic but not empathetic. At work, when Ariel (Jamila Hache) shows some tenderness, the screenplay (also written by Shen) spills with potential doom and/or catharsis. The beauty of Out Of Place is undoubtedly in its screenplay and parallel narration of its two characters that deceptively remain indifferent to one another. The scenes where both bring back to their empty rooms the onus of their expectations and dreaded disappointments, composer Ramesh Kumar Kannan’s piano duet plays out, as if to define what the characters couldn’t do verbally.
Furnman and Boneva are both incredibly similar in their performances. Similar in their restrained screen presence, limited-to-no-dialogue delivery, the almost-defeated glances they offer, and yet are different in the way their characters internalise their struggles. There’s anger, resentment, violence, but as external to one, as it is internal to the other. Cinematographer Leonel Escobar’s lens is intrusive as it is meant to be. Peering into their lives, the camera hovers over their shoulders at times, as their ears would, hoping to catch a word that might offer them something more. It stays there long after its welcome, like the loneliness that refuses to leave them despite rebuttal.
If not for Arndt Werling’s smart editing, the film would have dragged, adding no comfort or evoking the right sentiment for its characters. But, with its screen time, it manages to not only draw out characters with tender understanding of their inner struggles but also manages to bring in the harsh external elements that more often than not are responsible for the very struggles, making Out Of Place discomforting, moving and affecting, as close to real-life stories of immigrants as you can get.
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Out Of Place: Sublime Depiction Of Migrant Struggle