During my school’s annual Talent Show, our resident filmmaker William Martinko presented the audience with a clip from his latest film- his first feature titled Teardrops of Paint. The sequence, that clocked in at around five minutes, began straightforwardly. The protagonist Philip and his sister Ana left home separately, the former was off to a strip mall with his best friend and the latter was off to the prom with her boyfriend. As the clip depicted their respective evenings, it employed a bold visual technique. The footage looked as though it was being painted over in real time with kaleidoscopic colors dancing across the scene.
I was impressed by the innovation and beauty that was on display, but I was also worried that Teardrops of Paint would be plagued by the most egregious issue that weakens feature film debuts-- unmotivated showmanship. First-time directors are often so eager to showcase their filmmaking prowess that they’ll cram a myriad of stylistic flourishes that aren’t motivated by plot or character into their films. These flourishes often distract rather than dazzle, and I was concerned that Teardrops’ kaleidoscopic imagery was one such stylistic conceit. However, when I saw Teardrops of Paint in its entirety during its premier at the Ambler Theatre, I realized how far from the truth this concern was.
The aforementioned kaleidoscope sequence is one of a handful of sequences in which Philip's mind heightens reality through art, each depicted through a different style of art. The sequences are visually distinct from one another, but they are thematically consistent in that each captures both a moment of catharsis for Philip as a young man and a moment of inspiration for Philip as an artist. Martinko, an artist himself, adroitly conveys that to an artist it’s difficult to pinpoint where reality ends and art begins.
However, Teardrops of Paint is hardly a film about art itself, it’s a film about finding inspiration for art amid the confusion and turmoil of adolescence. Martinko and co-writer Gaspare Interrante simulate the uniquely adolescent sensation of feeling pulled in all directions by introducing a number or weighty plot threads into the narrative. And their ability to satisfactorily develop and allow these subplots to converge, namely during the film’s devastating climax, is truly remarkable. This accomplishment becomes even more impressive when you consider that Teardrops of Paint is only fifty-four minutes long.
Due to the length of its runtime, Teardrops has a lot of ground to cover in little time. And the film has a brisk pace, yet the screenwriters never bombard the audience with melodrama. They manage to find quiet, organic human moments in between and even during the momentous plot points. However, Teardrops of Paint’s cast is as responsible for the strength of these moments as Martinko or Interrante.
Mrs. Marusia Griffin Lynn, Hannah Rowan, and Meaghan McKiernan lend the film an air of humanity through the tenderness with which they play off of alumnus Adam Bensinger. Perhaps the finest scene of the film appears early on after Bensinger’s Phillip has embarrassed Rowan’s Ana by disparaging her boyfriend in front of their parents and storming off. Ana confronts him and the two naturally have an argument over Phillip’s outburst. This scene could have easily been a tense, over emotional moment between a brother and sister, but Rowan and Bensinger delivered the dialogue with a relaxed levity and causticness that captures the tone of arguments between siblings honestly,
And this honesty is what makes Teardrops of Paint such a remarkable debut. It’s at once unflinching and openhearted. It doesn’t shy away from adversity and distress, refusing to offer its characters pat resolutions. But it empathizes with its characters enough to grant them with hard-won redemptions. It matches this honesty with a boldness, evidenced by its incorporation of both vibrant, escapist sequences like the aforementioned painting scenes and hard-hitting, gritty sequences some shot using cell-phones. It’s a promising debut that announces the arrival of a group of fresh talents.
You can watch Teardrops of Paint here
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