Much like fellow up and coming Toronto based filmmaker Igor Drljaca did earlier this year with his story of alienation and distancing Krivina, director Kazik Radwanski makes the jump from short filmmaking to features with the uncomfortable and heartbreaking Tower (which also just so happened to play TIFF the same year and is finding local distribution through the same company). The similarities really end there, however, as Tower focuses more on a sort of distancing by way of crushed dreams and personal neuroses. It’s like watching the inside of someone’s brain that has a dissassociative disorder, and it’s as electrifying and quietly unsettling as that can sound.
Radwanski intimately follows the daily life of Derek (Derek Bogart), a 34 year old, slowly balding animator that still live in his parent’s basement. He’s a man in search of a connection by any means necessary. He goes to clubs solo, follows girls home impulsively, wakes up with a nearly broken nose on the living room floor, and then goes to his day job as a contractor for his uncle only to start meaningless small talk in hopes of finding something he can talk about with anyone. His sexual relationships are messy, and quite understandably his parents seems strained by his being there without having to always explicitly tell him as such.
Not trying to create a narrative that would feel forced, Radwanski goes as intimate as possible and the effects are stunning. Utilizing close ups that almost always cut out the frame of the world around his characters, the film feels unflinching and unparalleled outside of early Scorsese works like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and King of Comedy, especially. But where Scorsese uses this intimacy to intense characters of a certain profession to propel a story, Radwanski shows things exactly as they are without any unnecessary flourishes and a soundtrack that’s far more cheeky than it is on-the-nose.
In a mesmerizing performance, Bogart works hand in hand with Radwanski to make Derek seem like someone who desperately wanted to be somebody, and who almost was until something got in the way. The way he drags his heels on the animated work he’s so passionate about (to say nothing about his coal black concept involving “spheres” with “evil agendas”) and how confrontational he is towards parents and people offering advice and help belies someone who has listened to the wrong people one too many times. By that same token, Derek’s distancing has also caused him to crave any kind of human contact or intimacy no matter how small.
Tower comes filled with dozens of small and brilliant character moments that belie a greater unseen and unresolved trauma. In many ways Radwanski’s film is the rare example of clues in search of a greater mystery, and in many ways that’s typical of daily life within a city that prides itself on distance, seclusion, and casual-yet-genial intrusions into the personal lives of others. It’s an extremely well assembled tale of a man with grandiose thoughts and no possible way of ever being able to express them. It’s a contradictory state of mind that Radwanski shows with that hand of an old pro despite being early in his career.