Leaning into it 

The subtle arc of A Simple Curve

A Simple Curve has many virtues, in the Aristotelian sense of virtue as the mean between excess and deficiency. The film is deftly executed without being showy, comedic without being cartoonish and dramatic without resorting to histrionics. It’s a film that invites attention, subtly signaling its intentions to message-conscious viewers but sporting a story that’s accessible to anyone. A Simple Curve is a rare blend of capability and restraint, the sort of film you enjoy so much you could easily miss just how much it accomplishes.

Set in British Columbia’s Slocan Valley, a place of natural beauty comparable to Western Montana’s, the film’s story concerns a father and son, Jim (Michael Hogan) and Caleb (Kris Lemche), who run a wood furniture business. They live on a little piece of heaven that Jim settled with his wife Margie after fleeing the draft during the Vietnam War. When the movie opens, Margie has been dead for a year or two, and Jim and Caleb are struggling to stay financially solvent.

Jim’s old friend, Matthew (Matt Craven), is also just returning to town. He’s rich from running an eco-tourism business and plans to build a lodge nearby. Something from the past came between Jim and Matthew; something from the present is coming between Caleb and Jim. And there is a subplot about a developing romance between Caleb and a single mother who’s new to town. It’s a setup that could lend itself to cliché—friendships mended and a future forged—but that’s not how it goes.

“Have you ever told your dad to fuck off?” Matthew asks Caleb at one point. “We don’t really have that kind of relationship,” says Caleb.

Actually, they do—or at least they will once everything that has to be said gets said. The manner in which those things are said, the events that set them in motion and the behavior of the characters leading into and out of the various confrontations have the inevitability of tragedy, enacted with easy good humor.

A Simple Curve is true in the way of a good novel, and ambiguous in the way life often is. It’s a rare film these days, one that’s categorically adult not for explicit content, but by virtue of character and execution.

A Simple Curve will be screened as part of the Missoula Public Library’s World Wide Cinema program Friday, Feb. 9, at 7 PM. Free.

New on DVD

Ever wonder how the Motion Picture Association of America actually goes about rating a movie? Well, it’s one of those laws-and-sausages things: If you wish to retain any respect for the process, you probably don’t want to see it in action.

Not that you could anyway: The MPAA has a guarded campus in Encino, Calif., where an anonymous, top-secret panel of movie raters watches movies all day (starting pay is around $30,000 a year), compares notes and assigns one of five ratings which, though the MPAA stridently protests otherwise, can make a multimillion-dollar difference in the film’s commercial prospects. The process is partly systematic—these people really do tally f-bombs and the number of pelvic thrusts in simulated sex acts—but also highly subjective and often completely arbitrary.

Submitting a film to the ratings board is a voluntary though ultimately necessary step for filmmakers trying to get their films into commercial release, and a daunting one, because they know absolutely nothing about the people who are deciding the future of their films over lattes and Krispy Kremes. The board is a corporate entity, so there’s no judicial review—only a Kafkaesque appeals process in which participants wear numbers pinned to their clothes to avoid divulging their names. Indie filmmakers tend to detest the board, which they perceive as a fascist apparatus of the studio system put in place to discourage competition; the raters’ anonymity is supposedly to protect them from industry pressure, yet they maintain close ties with studio executives. Such is the loathing of indie filmmakers that most agree the system is barely better, and possibly worse, than the government censorship the ratings were created to replace in 1966.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated doesn’t just lay out the arguments against the ratings system, which it does entertainingly and effectively, demonstrating an institutional bias against sexuality and same-sex sexuality in particular. It also tries to infiltrate the MPAA’s secret clubhouse. Director Kirby Dick hires a private detective to out the panel members—a comical cloak-and-dagger sideshow mixed with history lessons and telling interviews with John Waters, Kevin Smith and Boys Don’t Cry director Kimberly Peirce. Revealing viewing, for sure, pun intended. —Andy Smetanka

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