ACQUAINTANCES OF A LONELY JOHN, THE

The Safdies Are Coming!

(Visit the official Red Bucket Films website to see the prolific Safdie Brothers in action.)

This is how it always happens. Benny Safdie, an undergraduate film school student at Boston University, picks up his degree and proceeds to fly directly to Cannes, where his most recent short film, The Acquaintances of a Lonely John, is selected to precede the closing night film in 2008’s prestigious Director’s Fortnight program. Oh, yes, the closing night film just so happens to be the only American feature selected that year. And, oh, yes, of course, we mustn’t forget. That feature, The Pleasure of Being Robbed, was directed by Benny’s older brother, Josh, who is only twenty-three years old. You see, friends, when it comes to the wide-open world of independent filmmaking, this is how it happens. Just like this. To all of you aspiring filmmakers out there, don’t worry. Your break is just around the corner. Really. There it is. Over there. Just keep your nose to the Steenbeck and glory will come.

All kidding aside, it really does seem like a charmed life these days for Josh and Benny Safdie and the entire Red Bucket Films crew. But let’s not go getting snippy and bitter about it, for their films are glorious mini-epiphanies that unmistakably belong to them. Many filmmakers spend their whole lives trying to carve a distinct shape into the amorphous cinematic cutting board. Benny and Josh Safdie, on the other hand, have already found their unique voices. Yet while their films share a similar spirit—namely, an appreciation for the mysterious goofiness of life—they each bring something different to their worlds: Josh splashes fantasy into his reality; Benny spikes absurdity into his. Only time will tell just how far the Safdies will go, but for now, closing night at Director’s Fortnight is a pretty damn good start.

We’ve already gushed about The Pleasure of Being Robbed, so let us take a moment to gush about The Acquaintances of a Lonely John. With this film, Benny Safdie takes his everyloser figure, John, and follows him over the course of one uneventful day, from his apartment to the Laundromat to his neighborhood gas station. Benny’s John—who doesn’t look like he’s from the 21st Century—comes off like a lost Marx Brother who has been overtaken by the spirit of Jacques Tati. When John sees a stranger, he raises his eyes and smiles. He’s naturally optimistic, and this tends to get him in trouble. Not so much in this film, but that appears to be Safdie’s point this time around: every day has small wonders to be found, some just more than others.

Benny Safdie has a natural gift for physical comedy that is hysterical but is also endearing and sweet. When John falls in the Laundromat, we’re not laughing at him. Okay, we are laughing at him. But we’re also laughing with him. When he discovers a bird has somehow made its way into his air conditioner, we crack up. But when he fills a matchbox with grain and feeds him, we recognize the sweetness in this gesture. When he overfills a customer’s tank while filling in for his friend at the gas station, we smirk. But when he sloppily tries to make up the difference with his own money, our ha becomes an aww. At only thirteen minutes, this film is filled with moments such as these. The Acquaintance of a Lonely John is an absolute delight, a bittersweet glimpse into the world as Benny Safdie sees it.

— Michael Tully

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