Without opens with a young and beautiful woman sitting on a ferry that's heading to Whidbey Island. She seems lost in her thoughts. The water is gray. The clouds are low.
A ferry employee cleans the tables behind her. She arrives on the island, enters town, and hires a ride to her destination. Her driver is clearly attracted to her beauty. She plays it cool, directs him to a driveway for a home on the left side of the road. She settles her business, gathers her things, shuts the door, walks up the driveway with a noisy roller suitcase, and, from the driver's perspective, disappears behind trees and bushes. After a moment of silence, the driver reverses, turns, and heads back to town. After a moment of silence, the young woman reappears from behind the greenery, makes sure the driver is gone, and noisily crosses the street to a home on the opposite side—her actual destination. It's at this moment that I fell in love with this movie. The timing of the editing and performances, the sound design, the photography—all made it clear that I was in very good hands and that the rest of the work would only deepen this initial love.
There is another scene, early in the movie—there are so many great scenes and sequences in this masterpiece of regional cinema—in which the young woman (Joslyn Jensen), wearing a black floral dress, is helping a catatonic elderly man (Ron Carrier) into bed. This is the job she came to the island to do. The job involves caring for the old man while his family is away on vacation. The house is ordinary, the rules of the house are a little odd but not eccentric, and this is the young woman's first night with the wheelchair-bound man. The difficult task of lifting him from the wheelchair to the bed is shown in such a way that makes her ass very prominent. Each pull of the man's limp waist or legs causes, from our perspective, her ass to rise, round, and expand invitingly. Though the old man can't see her ass (it's on the other side of him), we can't help wondering if he is secreting pleasure from her exertions.
Later in the film, yet another scene. This time it's with an animal, a deer. It walks out of the forest and begins to eat the grass in the home's backyard. The young woman sees the animal through a window. The light, the fur, the black hooves, the chewing, the eyes, the stares. It's a moment filled with something that can only be described as cosmic sensuality, a transanimal field of desire. Without is the region's first erotic tour de force—the cleaning of the old body, the surprise erection, the computer orgasm, the horny visitor, her longing for a lover who is seemingly trapped in the hard drive of her signal-less iPhone. (Humpday was certainly a fine film, but it was not erotic.)
Without is a regional film. Its director, Mark Jackson, though currently living in New York City, was raised in Seattle, and the same goes for the film's star, Jensen. One of the film's producers, Jaime Keeling, who also lives in NYC, once lived in Seattle and was the program director of Northwest Film Forum. Carrier, an actor in my film Zoo and Megan Griffiths's new Sundance-bound film The Off Hours, lives in Seattle.
The movie was shot entirely on Whidbey Island with the camera of the future, a Canon 5D Mark II, and a micro crew. The project had two primary cinematographers, Jessica Dimmock and Diego Garcia—the former, who has worked with Jackson on other projects (one of which is a video for Moby's "Wait for Me") and has a background in photography, essentially did the fixed shots. Garcia did moving shots. This collaboration was successful, as was the film's art direction by Alisarine Ducolomb—she worked on Che: Part One, Babel, and Amores Perros.
Without, which premieres this week at Slamdance (it really is scandalous that it's not in competition in Sundance), reinforces the natural cinematic beauty of our part of the world. The quality of light, the sharpness of colors, the lowness of clouds, the closeness of mountains, and the meshing of rural and urban codes. It is now clearer than ever that a film made in this region must exploit its natural wonders and beauty.