Rick Alverson's New Jerusalem (which he made before The Comedy) had its North American premiere at South by Southwest, and it many ways, it fulfills the stereotype of the festival film: low-budget, contemplative, semi-improvised, and challenging to viewers who don't like having to fill in the blanks. While New Jerusalem's rigid formalism will surely be off-putting to some, there's beauty to be found in the film's sheen of placid grime. The nominal narrative tells of tire-shop employee Ike (Will Oldham, also known as Bonnie "Prince" Billy), an evangelical Christian hoping to save the soul of his co-worker Sean (Colm O'Leary), an Irishman quietly troubled by his recent National Guard service in Afghanistan. Shot in Richmond, Va., the film is also a study of textures, with many lingering shots of shadows, reflections, heat distortions, and especially the greasy, masculine milieu of the tire shop and its constant rumble of traffic. Oldham and O'Leary's characters remain ciphers, often on the verge of revealing who they truly are but never quite getting there, not even when O'Leary seems to be breaking out of his shell toward the end — indeed, Alverson ends New Jerusalem just as the third act seems to be beginning. He offers no revelations, and you're on your own.
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