This was pretty much the best thing I saw at SXSW. I say "best" in the sense that almost every moment of watching this piece was an enjoyable one--meaning, I was glad my butt was parked in a seat in a theater watching it. I'm a fidgety girl, so when something holds me completely rapt, it's a big deal, 'cause not much does these days.
The DeVilles, directed by first-time feature director, Nicole Nielsen Horanyi, clocks in at a cool 56 minutes. And yes, she's a Dane and if you've noticed by now, I love, love, love the nonfiction cinema that comes out of Denmark. If I were ever to bother going to film school, the only place I would be interested in enrolling would be at the National Film School there. The film was programmed with an excellent 25-minute short called Control from Norwegian director, Hanne Myren; playing the two films together was a great programming call by SXSW's own Jim Kolmar.
The DeVilles tells the story of the 25-year relationship of married couple, Teri Lee and Shawn Geary, who live in a charming, but well-worn, house in the Silverlake section of Los Angeles. Teri Lee's stage name is Kitten DeVille, and she's a big deal in the world of burlesque; she's been a headline performer for decades and still puts on a scintillating show. (She also teaches fat housewives how to striptease in her home studio.) Her husband, Shawn, is a rockabilly singer, who physically channels Joe Strummer, circa 1980. He and his band still rage like young punks, rehearsing at full throttle during the day in the garage, driving all the dogs in the neighborhood crazy.
The couple, with their three daughters, lives in a nostalgic world of their own making and we soon find out that the long-standing love between Teri Lee and Shawn has fissures and cracks that erupt into full-blown crises once in a while. While completely devoted to one another and their family, both have indulged in various infidelities over the years, and during a party one evening, Teri Lee has a major drama-queen moment in front of their guests revealing for all to see her private distress and heartache. She's got one of those wide-mouthed glamorous smiles, that if you look closely enough, reveals a lot of pain.
The film is shot and told as a riveting narrative, the subjects never directly addressing the camera/audience, but acting out the passion play of their family drama. There are several moments of self-consciousness even though most, if not all, of the scenes are staged explicitly for the camera. We are always aware that we are watching real people, but neither do we ever lose sight of the fact that they are all performers (including the youngest daughter who appears to be about eleven years old and has a stunning, powerful singing voice of her own). At the beginning of the film, I was a bit disoriented as to where I was geographically, but this is a tableau that could really only exist in Los Angeles, the city which resides under the relentless shadow of Hollywood dreams that never say die.
Teri Lee and Shawn are fascinating to watch when they're on their own, but together there is definitely "movie magic," the charisma and sexual energy between them quite powerful. One, literally, cannot exist without the other. The film, in turn, romanticizes this long-term love affair in all its glory, Laust Trier Mørk's cinematography shot in 16:9 HD-CAM, luscious and fulgent. The film ends with our hero driving off into the sunset towards Vegas in his pink Cadillac DeVille to rescue and re-kindle the passion of his only true love.
The DeVilles has no release date yet in Denmark (or anywhere else, at the moment), but is distributed worldwide by First Hand Films.