Directed by: Daniel Patrick Carbone
Starring: Ryan Jones, Nathan Varnson, Colm O’Leary,Christina Starbuck
The Sutherland Award, created to celebrate the best directorial debuts of the year, is always one of the most exciting competitions at the London Film Festival. It’s an opportunity to experience some of the fantastic work of the up-and-coming directorial talent from across the globe. Shot on a minimal budget in rural America and a toast at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, Daniel Patrick Carbone’s atmospheric drama epitomizes the purpose of the First Film Competition with a picture that displays the raw potential of this first-time filmmaker.
Drawing on his own experiences, writer/director Carbone creates a poignant character piece about grief and brotherhood in male adolescence. The focus is on brothers Tommy and Eric whose lives are rocked when their friend is found dead in what may have been a suicide. Struggling to make sense of the very adult situation they find themselves in, the brothers turn to each other for support and comfort during a time of overwhelming grief and confusion.
Choosing to focus on a small aspect of what could have been a much larger story, Carbone builds his story slowly, allowing the incredible talent of his young male leads to drive the film. Both giving effectively naturalistic performances, first-time actors Ryan Jones & Nathan Varnson tenderly capture the lack of worldly understanding that comes with youth; their frequent emotional outbursts, which they themselves struggle to control, underlining their naivety towards the effects of grief.
Filmed mainly on location in rural New Jersey, Carbone paints his story with vast long shots of the breathtaking American countryside. Visually striking, the wide-sweeping landscapes highlight both the freedom and isolation of our protagonists. Carbone’s admirably restrained editing allowing the story to be told in lengthy shots that creates a haunting sense of reality.
Despite his muted narrative, Carbone struggles to weave together the vast amount of ideas he would clearly like to explore. Confused by the overwhelming emotions they are feeling, Tommy & Eric question the possible motives for their friend’s death. The film asks many such unnerving questions, but struggles to focus on offering any answers.
One subplot involves Eric’s friend’s growing desire to take his own life, but fails to explore the reasons behind it. Unfortunately, this lack of focus makes for a surprisingly hollow final act; Carbone unable to offer sufficient conclusions to the ensemble of characters you’ve grown attached to.
Poignant but not without its problems, Hide Your Smiling Faces establishes a director & writer with great potential. Dramatically brutal and visually beautiful, Carbone’s film shows a director with a clear talent for asking serious questions, but also shows his inability to find the focus he needs to answer them.