Moving apartments in any city can be rough, but in New York it can be especially harrowing. This aspect of carrying burdens, even if they aren’t ours to carry, is the basis of the 2010 Oscar-winning short film <i>The New Tenants</i> by Joachim Back.
Moving apartments in any city can be rough, but in New York it can be harrowing—filling some old roommates shoes, trying to meld with other flat mates, and just getting your shit straight before the rest of your life comes crashing down. I just moved into a place in Bushwick where my room’s previous tenant was a forensic photographer who shot all the murders, rapes, and other grisly acts happening in the five boroughs. Needless to say she was an intense character with black painted walls and a penchant for muscular, emotionally distant men. I have since erased many of the darker aspects of the room by repainting the walls white, removing the black blanket that covered the skylight, putting up cheerful curtains, and hanging art on the walls. However, no matter how much I transform the space, there are parts of it that my roommates and I still associate with her. That aspect of carrying burdens, even if they aren’t ours to carry, is the basis of the 2010 Oscar-winning short film The New Tenants by Joachim Back.
Set in a New York apartment, the film fully embraces the best and worst bits of the city. It’s simultaneously a big city with diverse people and backgrounds, and an incredibly small city due to the density and lack of privacy. This quality gives much fodder for polemic egotistical and ideological attacks against everyone but themselves. The tenants are an “opposites attract” gay couple—Frank (writer/actor David Rakoff) and Peter (Jamie Harold). Frank, is a chain-smoking, world class loather who can’t stop ranting about life’s insignificance to his annoyed, yet caring lover. Peter, playing the film’s only caring character, is in for quite a ride when the apartment’s burdens literally come knocking on the door. First to arrive is a mad make-uped Grandma desperately seeking flour for a cinnamon bun recipe being baked for her granddaughter. After Frank jokes that his relationship to flour is “not all it could be” due to not baking since 1987, Peter hands the woman a bag of what should be flour from the cupboard setting in motion a series of bizarre encounters with the apartment’s other invested parties.
What follows is a round robin of star-studded crazies entering the apartment to settle their scores with the previous tenants including Vincent D’Onofrio as a vengeful crowbar-wielding husband and Kevin Corrigan as a curiously distractible, yet cold-blooded killing drug dealer. The actors are all on point and thrive with sharply written wit. But what really takes the “cinnamon bun” is the ending scene, where the new tenants are given a new lease on life and rediscover what is sweet about their relationship and life. It’s one of those picture perfect moments made brighter because darkness, murder, mayhem, and more surround it.
Joachim Back was known as a commercial director doing mostly ads until the right script fell into his lap. The screenplay was drafted by Anders Thomas Jensen and was adapted and expanded on by lead actor and writer, David Rakoff. Joachim managed to pull together a great cast with David and Jamie Harold in the leads and supporting roles by Vincent D’Onofrio, Kevin Corrigan, Helen Hanft, and Liane Balaban. Adding to film’s credentials is Pawel Edelman, who shot the film and is a frequent collaborator of Roman Polanski’s (The Pianist, Carange, Venus in Fur). The short went on to win Best Short at the 2010 Chicago International Film Festival, which placed it in the running for the Academy Award, which it ultimately won. Since The New Tenants, Joachim made a branded short film in 2011 for the Scotch whisky Chivas Regal called Here's to Big Bear, which is a weird and crappy play off The Hangover. Anyway, here’s to hoping he makes something new and soon.
Jeffrey Bowers is a tall mustached guy from Ohio who's seen too many weird movies. He currently lives in Brooklyn, working as an art and film curator. He is a programmer at the Hamptons International Film Festival and screens for the Tribeca Film Festival. He also self-publishes a super fancy mixed-media art serial called PRISM index.
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