Anyone who's seen Quentin Tarantino's Magnum Opus Pulp Fiction has to recall the emotional rollercoaster Tarantino takes the viewer on from the opening diner scene.
Cotton String, the feature-film debut of indie filmmaker Marina Bruno opens with two middle-aged men, Martin and Lucas (Dave Campbell and Carlo Bruno) ready to make a new investment. From there a similar rollercoaster begins. The chemistry between Campbell and Bruno isn't perfect, but the back-and-forth banter between the two provides engaging dialogue that reminded me of a Coen brothers film. The factor which makes them a solid duo is the unpredictable nature of the manner in which they react to their surroundings. Bruno shines with a more morally ambiguous character while Campbell's character serves closer to the voice of reason.
Martin and Lucas decide to invest in an electric classic car owned by a hippie pot-dealer named "The Phoenix" (played brilliantly by Renato Vettore). It's almost like the classic "things will definitely go completely wrong" plot of a Pulp Fiction or Raising Arizona, but with Marina Bruno's own unique style of filmmaking. Secondary characters include Quinn and Todd (Joshua Cafazzo and Damien Young), two potheads who are customers of "The Phoenix," their bracelet-selling sister Joyce (Marina Bruno), and their father (Sasha Chichagov).
Bruno certainly knows how to make a film that takes the viewer on a journey the way she desires. Although, Cotton String is not without its flaws. You can certainly tell the film was not produced on the highest of budgets, but that makes the story even more rich given Bruno's technical limitations. Also Bruno wrote, produced, directed, and edited the movie by herself at just 19 years old. So clearly she had a lot on her plate making this film and her hard work is evident throughout the film's duration.
The storyline itself unravels in an almost Tarantino-like way. The film is divided into 6 "parts" in non-chronological order. We start off with Part 4 and are thrown into different situations with each part (Bruno even treats the viewer with a "half-part" similar to "The Four Passengers" segment in Tarantino's The Hateful Eight). I thoroughly enjoyed the use of this format and even though the Tarantino influences are apparent, Bruno makes the storytelling device her own and keeps the viewer engaged.
The characters are an interesting bunch. Out of all the acting, Renato Vettore's performance as "Phoenix" stood out to me. A particular scene where he's showcasing his product before selling to Quinn and Todd was one of my favorites. Campbell and Bruno are solid as Martin and Lucas, the two main characters as their chemistry grows throughout the film. Bruno is particularly a delight to view on screen as his energy is clear throughout Martin and Lucas' misadventures (He also served as a co-producer on the film). His character's rash decisions are essential to the plot and fit together well within the narrative. Campbell's performance is slightly more comical and complements Bruno's character well, making their "road trip buddies" type relationship fairly efficient.
Joshua Cafazzo and Damien Young could have put forth more as Quinn and Todd. These two characters don't quit complement each other as efficiently as they need to, but both actors are adequate enough to be convincing. Marina Bruno is pretty good herself as Quinn and Todd's sister Joyce and I enjoyed her character in the "half-part" section of the film.
Genre-wise Cotton String falls closest to a black comedy, complete with random spurts of violence and very interesting choices in music. These two aspects are perhaps the most intriguing creative choices by Bruno. The music used throughout has a pretty old-fashioned and the rural landscapes give the film an almost vintage feel, I was reminded of The Wizard of Oz or some other old school movie.
Bruno is very selective with where she decides to place violence and when it's present, the impact of it is on full display. It's very sudden and in some places funny which really reminded me of a Reservoir Dogs or Burn After Reading.
Overall, Marina Bruno puts forth a solid effort with her debut feature film Cotton String. The film does suffer from looking slightly amateurish, but Bruno's passion for film is evident and the intricate plot makes Cotton String a good showcase of Bruno's talent and a sign of even better things to come from the young filmmaker.