Fragments of a City, Sewn Together, in Buttons


“Found films from the everyday” is how filmmakers Alex Kalman and Benny and Josh Safdie describe the hundreds of tiny video snippets that comprise their multi-city mosaic Buttons. This seems an accurate enough descriptor. Shot over a period of nine years on pocket-sized cameras, theses fragments of quotidian urban life, none lasting more than a few seconds, prove that the everyday need not be unremarkable. Though including footage from locales as far flung as Montenegro and Israel, Buttons is New York-centric, frequently focusing on Gotham’s down-and-out denizens. The fragments find unexpected humor in a man on the subway ignoring his own book to read his neighbor’s paperback over her shoulder, pathos in the numerous shots of elderly people struggling to walk down the city streets, and both in one snippet of a homeless man popping into a McDonald’s to earn a few seconds respite from a rain storm, keeping his umbrella open as he plops down at a table. Repeated motifs abound (subways, insects, canes) and similar segments are often grouped together, but the project consistently maintains a rough-hewn anything-goes quality. These “buttons” may not add up to any grand urban portrait, but they offer us stolen moments of daily life replete with low-key pleasures.