By Don Simpson | February 16, 2015
Director: Brandon Colvin
Writer: Brandon Colvin
Starring: Robert Longstreet, Rhoda Griffis, Kentucker Audley, Rebecca Koon, Thomas Jay Ryan, Frank Mosley, Charlotte Sweet, Alicia Kobishop, Kaleb Herron
Just as philosophy professor Ben Hardin (Robert Longstreet) is about to go on sabbatical to author a book, he is pulled back to his hometown to care for his mother (Rebecca Koon) as she contends with the aftermath of a recent stroke. When Ben’s former lover, Sarah (Rhoda Griffis), picks him up from the airport, the already quiet man is immediately transported into a state of discomfort. As they drive in the car, Brandon Colvin introduces his audience to the isolating visual aesthetic that pervades Sabbatical. The camera remains in the backseat of the car, stuck in a static closeup, revealing only the backs of Ben and Sarah’s heads. Colvin studiously relegates his characters to specific quadrants of the classical 4:3 aspect ratio. The result may seem frigid in relation to loose visual improvisation utilized by most of Colvin’s peers within the microbudget cinema community, but the purposeful framing adroitly exemplifies the emotional barriers of his characters, allowing us to experience their isolation and dislocation without the crutches of expository dialog or facial expressions. All the while, the rhythm and cadence of Ben and Sarah’s dialog is utterly void of dramatic pretenses, as the words roll slowly from their tongues in a near-monotone whisper. Their performances, which may seem cold and stilted, skillfully deemphasize the significance of the words, thus bringing us back to the construction of Colvin’s framing which speaks volumes.
It is not long before Ben’s recently unemployed brother, Dylan (Kentucker Audley), ingratiates himself into their mother’s house in order to lazily live on the cheap for a while. Ben might have planned to comfort his mother solely by his proximity as he cloistered himself up in his old bedroom, but in reality he rarely has any opportunities to work on his book without the normal distractions of life. As Ben interacts with his mother and brother, Colvin continues to separate each character into their dedicated quadrants. Essentially an existential analysis of mortality and loneliness, each character is confined to claustrophobic spaces of their own devices. With the upmost subtlety, Colvin retains this stoically academic perspective as he peers into the raw emotions of his characters.
Colvin would probably be the first to admit that Sabbatical was not made for viewers with a mainstream cinematic palate. In the context of current cinema, Sabbatical is practically experimental. With its rigid focus on form over narrative, Sabbatical seems totally out of place and time, sharing its aesthetic sensibilities with 1960s French cinema. That said, Sabbatical is one of the most purely cinematic experiences you will find in the 4:3 aspect ratio nowadays.