The watchword for Lev Kalman and Whitney Horn’s L for Leisure is “mellow” — both its presiding sensibility and, from the mouths of the placid intellectuals who are the film’s carefree heroes, its oft-invoked refrain.
L for Leisure premiered this January at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, where it proved the most notable exponent of the festival’s Bright Future program, a sidebar for emerging talent. But Kalman and Horn’s talent had emerged as far back as 2009. That was the year of Blondes in the Jungle, a blissful, eccentric 48-minute short feature and a precursor to the washed-out, laid-back splendor further refined by Leisure. It’s a remarkable debut.
A deeply idiosyncratic period comedy, shot on location in Honduras in sumptuous 16mm, Blondes in the Jungle concerns the rather dilatory efforts of a trio of American students to find the Fountain of Youth — an endeavor variously delayed by the appearance of a salmon-blazered cocaine dealer (“the farmer who grew this shit is 10 miles that way”) and, more inexplicably still, Bret Easton Ellis, who literally parachutes in for moral guidance.
The film, as you may have guessed, has a somewhat elusive aspect that defies classification. Its tone is pitched somewhere between the droll loquacity of Whit Stillman and the dreamy surrealism of Buñuel; one minute it’s mounting a wry treatise on the merits of 21 Jump Street, the next it seems poised to reckon with the universe. That it manages to so seamlessly reconcile the two is perhaps its major achievement.