Independent Film Review: The Arriviste (2012)

DVD Availability: March 28, 2012
Runtime: 93 minutes
Rated: No MPAA rating
Director: Pascal Santschi
Writer: Pascal Santschi
Starring: Eamon Speer, P.J. Cross, Paige Ambroziak, Raymond Turturro, Mark Fernandes
Crime | Comedy | Thriller

In The Arriviste, a guy named “Nick Laumer” (Eamon Speer) is waiting for his parole to end, hoping to see better days. He is looking to keep his distance from older brother and hardened criminal “William Laumer” (P.J. Cross) because of his extensive criminal involvement that has always had a way of finding him.

William gets involved in a scheme to defraud wealthy patients with the help of a nurse, “Jean Garlow” (Paige Ambroziak). Things begin to unravel for the two when one of her patients, “Feldman” (Sam Charny), discovers he is being blackmailed and sends a fake detective “Blitzer” (Gary Devirgilio) to track down William, which of course leads back to Nick.

Eamon Speer as "Nick Laumer"
Meanwhile, Nick is approached by “Clifford” (Tom Morwick), a shady life insurance rep who wants him to sign a document to close out a deal that would allow (unbeknownest to him) Garlow and Williams to claim a hefty settlement from Laumer’s death. A $350,000 insurance policy taken out on Nick naturally makes him want to seek out his brother for some answers (as any of us would).

So a suspicious Nick begins to track down his bro who finds him missing and his brother’s girlfriend, “Susan” (Heiki Muschik) dead. As the mystery heats up, an ambitious reporter “Caan” (Mark Fernandes) is pursuing a huge book deal based on the infamous William, which puts him in touch with Nick. But when Nick’s safety and well-being are soon on the line, the case only gets uglier in a distorted web of lies and self-serving corruption.

Now just add a “germophobe” homeless bum (Raymond Turturro) into the mix and you have this truly unique film directed, produced, and edited by Pascal Santschi.

While The Arriviste features an intricately thought-out story, it suffers from worse-than-usual problems we get with many an independent film. In this case, a lack of sufficient lighting is a recurring problem. This becomes bothersome, and often, so does the overdubbing, and the music, which sounds like something from Seinfeld and seldom matches or augments the appropriate mood (except at those express moments when the film showcases the all-out shiftiness of its characters). But these things still aren’t far outside of the norm.

The Arriviste is intended as a fast-paced and crude comedy shot guerilla-style on the streets of New York, but with some exceptions, what is even funnier than what was supposed to be funny is the unintentional laughs we get from the highly scripted dialog. This is a huge problem. The second most-funny thing (to me) is how every one of these losers just can’t see how quickly their efforts dissolve due to either incompetence or else boundless greed. But on a budget this small, some poorly acted segments lacking the necessary re-shoots we can willingly look beyond.

Mind you, this project was completed for under $10,000, making it a contender for the least expensive film ever shot on 35mm tape. Yes, it feels it, but at least one modern director is willing to fight the tide of going digital! This all but embodies the very spirit of what it means to be a true Indie filmmaker.

“This was made possible,” says Santschi, “by my doing everything myself, from writing the script to handling the cinematography to composing the music, to perfecting ADR. I was literally a crew of one.” But while I can’t be too critical of a work on such a small budget, I cannot let go of the fact that this film is up against some truly besetting odds. On a second viewing, however, I was astonished at how the story elements really began to stand out more boldly than I had noticed before. Fact is, these can very easily be missed with all of the budget-based distractions.

But while the story raises some questions that demand answers (and rather serious focus from its audience), it feels much bigger than the seedbed from which it sprang. Everyone in The Arriviste is looking out for number one. This makes it the task of the audience to distinguish the protagonists from the antagonists, which will prove a challenge. This is a fascinatingly upscale quality in a movie with such shackling limitations.

The problems – and the things that annoy us most – come from characters doing and saying things they would likely never say or do. We have trouble relating to certain characters in particular, largely because of their odd demeanors and comically mouthy responses. Blitzer’s fake badge, for instance, might not even fool a ten-year-old, and yet it seems to fool our main character for a while. It’s honestly difficult to tell how much of this is intentional humor and how much is the result of a low budget or maybe just plain old goofs, but in a cynical sort of way, I find this, too, very amusing.

Speaking of our lead man, he is respectably real. Although rather wooden and exhibiting a narrow range of personality, but together with Turturro and Fernandes, it is his consistent matter-of-fact-ness that aims to take this up a notch. And so while the murder-mystery underneath carries with it a level of interest, as big a mystery is what is driving the lead character that has more by way of smarts than he at first appears to have.

But as with every character here, how they are presented to us always remains consistent—a mark of a well-directed film. And as the film progresses and we have more time to invest ourselves in the story, the awkward scripting doesn’t seem quite as bad. But the fact remains that what we have to work with here is close to being outgunned by all that is fighting so hard against it.

For the budget, this can indeed be called a phenomenal piece of work, but it is simply too difficult to assess the reception of such a film with audiences at large.