Set in and around a decrepit mental hospital in America shortly after World War II, Inside/Out--the third feature by Sykesville-based filmmaker Rob Tregenza (Talking to Strangers)--is a leisurely paced, visually driven ensemble drama. There's very little dialogue. In fact, nearly all the scenes are patiently observed vignettes, shot in long, unbroken takes that rely on the actors' physicality and the writer/director/cinematographer's spare, original camerawork to put them over. Inside/Out, which screened at this year's Sundance Film Festival and last year's Cannes Film Festival, isn't likely to be everyone's idea of a night at the movies, but it's ambitious and haunting.
Many of the most deeply emotional scenes revolve around the growing love affair between Jean (Frederic Pierriot) and Monica (Berangere Allaux), both patients at the remote hospital. Perriot and Allaux create nuanced, empathetic characters and their story is by far the most compelling of the interlocking subplots. Inside/Out also focuses on an Episcopal priest played by Tim Gilroy (Land and Freedom), who yearns for the hospital's church organist (Stefania Rocca), and silent, disturbed jazz trumpeter Roger Freeman (Steven Watkins), who shadows his friend Jean. Meanwhile, Monica and Jean's passionate obsession draws the increasingly dangerous attention of an abusive guard (a hammy Mikkel Gaup, who waves his arms so much you'd think he was directing a plane to the runway).
The film suffers two major flaws. Its two-hour length is about 30 minutes too much, especially since a scene about three-quarters of the way in--which ends with all the characters filing out of a dance hall after an aborted party while harp music plays--seems so much like a benediction. And the narrative is so slack that it's all too easy to lose its thread. The film is so stingy with dialogue and exposition that this reviewer didn't "get" many of the connections among the characters, their backgrounds, or the plot's intended focus until she read the synopsis in the movie's production notes--though whether this says more about the shortcomings of the reviewer or the film is open to debate.