“The Arbalest,” written and directed by Adam Pinney, premieres at the SXSW film festival this week. It’s a film that will captivate audiences as they attempt to solve the ultimate puzzle: what did Foster Kalt really invent? Famous toy maker, Foster Kalt (Mike Brune), is known as a non-verbal recluse, but is currently the focus of an interview by television news reporters to uncover dark, past secrets of his life…and perhaps even of the future.
Foster brings us back in time to a toy convention in 1968 to reveal the truth behind the greatest toy ever made. Kalt’s attendance and chance meeting with a young couple ultimately determines his life’s future path. Unfortunately, poor Foster lacks confidence as a new toy maker and as he describes his invention to Sylvia (Tallie Medel) and Paul (Matthew Stanton), Kalt is verbally degraded and demoralized. Paul’s invention, however, is viewed in a much better light. Drinking, drugs, and a death in the hotel room create a situation of secrecy and idea theft. A deal is made, but from Foster’s perspective, there is also a love connection.
Beautifully filmed, capturing both the 60’s and 70’s with atmosphere and style, we are transported inside the mind of Kalt as well as how others perceive this “geek, nerd, liar…” It’s obvious that something he has created is somehow negative, but there’s a juxtaposition in what we are seeing and what we know will happen. Using footage from the past and Kalt’s narration creates a sense of real history. There is also a sense of mystery and intrigue as the viewer attempts to find out what his “life ruining mistakes” are. The confusion is part of the fun in this film as you’re not sure if you’re watching a biopic or a film that is complete fiction until the very end. It’s similar to dumping the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle on the table—you know you are seeing everything you need to complete the picture, but you just can’t see it clearly.
What makes “The Arbalest” unique is the satirical look at love, greed, and revenge. With a succinct script and perfect execution of editing, every scene and word is vital to the progression of the story. “The Arbalest” creates unusual and somewhat sensationalized characters who frequently utter unexpected lines of humor giving balance to a rather dark story.
Brune portrays this dark and disturbed character with ease. There’s a sad and needy look deep beneath his eyes as he demonstrates the subtle characteristics of an underdog. Medel is striking with her looks, accentuating her brilliance in intellect and nerves of steel as Sylvia. Her strength is emphasized by her verbal command and body language, giving the viewer a strong female lead. Felice Heather Monteith’s performance as the self-absorbed television host is wonderfully over the top with her intolerance for everything and everyone. Again, a perfect balance is struck with characters.
“The Arbalest” is in many ways a typical love story gone wrong, full of jealousy and revenge. However, “typical” is not a word to describe this film. It’s suspenseful and unexpectedly funny in the darkest of ways and cinematically stunning. It’s a film you’ll want to see for a second time as the second go ’round allows you to see everything you missed the first time. You won’t believe your eyes!
If you’re at SXSW, be sure to put this on your list of films to see. For more information about this film, go to thearbalestmovie.tumblr.com
3 1/2 Stars