Mike Ott’s “Littlerock” is a small gem of miscommunication and hopefulness. A Japanese brother and sister, Rintaro (Rintaro Sawamoto) and Atsuko (played by Atsuko Okatsuka, co-writer with Ott and Carl McLaughlin) arrive in a dusty, depopulated roadside town in California’s Antelope Valley. We don’t know their goal, beyond a replacement rental car, and Atsuko doesn’t speak English. The days and nights pass in low-key interactions with the locals, especially Cory (Cory Zacharia), an aspiring model and artist who fashions a killer crush on Atsuko. Zacharia is, to say the least, overly communicative in comparison to the other characters: there’s even a touch of Werner Herzog’s otherworldly eccentric Bruno S. to his personality. It’s a real town: Littlerock provides a sense of place and space for Ott’s observational patience. A great strength of the film is that it’s simply observant, and not calculating like some kind of “generational” statement. “Littlerock” sets up cultural confusions and romantic possibility and we watch them spiral. There’s a little bit of Wenders and Jarmusch to the strangers in a strange land, and Atsuko’s wordlessness is reminiscent of Wenders’ girl heroines. But Wenders’ children seem alienated from their landscape; they aren’t truly doing an immersive walkabout, they don’t get a sense of the world that we discover with them. “Littlerock”‘s world is less one of heavy plotting than one of suspended dust motes. The ending is surprisingly tender, expanding its scope far beyond the small desert town. 83m. (Ray Pride)
“Littlerock” opens Friday at Siskel. A trailer is below.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.