The air is abuzz with the recently-announced nominees for the 2016 Oscars — and dubious voter demographics aside, we were all excited to see Brooklyn nominated for best picture. With its deft visual storytelling, impressive performances by starring and supporting actors, and a reasonable dose of borough nostalgia (not to mention depiction of a preferable dating scene for some), the movie doesn’t leave much to be desired by its audiences. But recently, we caught wind of another Brooklyn movie on the indie circuit that quietly made it to the big screen in 2015.
It’s called Brooklyn Bizarre, and it tells the story of an errant French teenager who somehow ends up in BK (without any clothes on) and lands a gig working alongside other Luhrmann-esque misfits at Bushwick’s very own Bizarre Bar. At first description, it sounds pretty raw and exciting; the DVD cover shows two women washing an innocent young man’s body in the shower. Could this be the award-worthy tribute to Brooklyn’s gritty underbelly that we’ve missing?
Well, not exactly.
The story follows a knife-toting French boy, Maurice (Pierre Preur), as he touches down, inexplicably, in Brooklyn.
“I don’t talk much,” his voiceover confesses at the beginning of the film, as he eats a slice of pizza.
Maurice broods on subway platforms for a few scenes, and then gets picked up by bar owner Betty (Rebekah Underhill) to work at, and live above, Bizarre Bar. Betty’s girlfriend and business partner Kim (Raquel Nave) takes a liking to their new charge, and they poke at him periodically like he’s their pet. There’s a one-sided love story when another bar employee, Luka (Adrian James), falls for Maurice. The latter remains asexual through all these foibles, opting instead to act as the quintessential voyeur who simply lets himself be whirled about and rubbed all over by a motley band of Brooklynites. At the end of the movie, [SPOILER ALERT] Maurice confronts a mustachioed nemesis from his past, murders him with Luka’s help, then rides the subway naked, for no apparent reason.
There are a few reasons why this movie probably skipped your radar: for one thing, performances are frustratingly non-acted by a cast of ex-models whose credits are mostly from their fashion careers (Preur is a model for Abercrombie and Fitch, Rebekah Underhill is a face from Dry Magazine). Also, everyone is white. But it’s more than just the acting, or the astonishing non-diversity of the landscape, that disappoints. It’s the cinematography of a film that, by its title, stakes its claim on the city we live in and purports to conjure it onscreen.
Maurice is seen flipping burgers behind the counter at Reben Luncheonette (229 Havemeyer St.), taking the J train in and out of Manhattan, and working at Bizarre (12 Jefferson St.), where real-life performer Matthew Silver makes a few appearances. But that’s about it, as far as authenticity goes. Scenes of the BK waterfront are mostly blurred out, and every shot filmed on the street is crowded by Maurice’s body in the center of the frame, his back facing us as he walks away, like we’re the thing from It Follows.
In the end, the real-world takeaway offered by this film has far more to do with the performing arts than with our borough. After all, the burlesque scenes portrayed in the film certainly aren’t limited to Brooklyn: glittering, elysian back rooms where people take off their clothes and bare their souls onstage exist on every continent. And it’s certainly important to show that reality onscreen, for all the traditionalists (the Academy Awards included) who seem to favor a world that excludes the macabre, the mysterious and the downright obscene.
In fact, we encourage you to check out any number of weird, off-beat happenings in Brooklyn IRL. Because if you’re only watching Brooklyn Bizarre, you risk falling under the impression that our city’s scope of “weird” (which we so bitterly eulogized last year) is limited to a half-mile stretch of Bushwick, and is taking its cues from Eyes Wide Shut.
This movie was so small that it didn’t get any reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and the audience review there is at 40 percent. But it’s also the second movie that comes up when you search ‘Brooklyn’ on Amazon video, which suggests that it might have a cult following somewhere in the ether. You can have a look at the trailer below and decide whether it’s worth your while.
But hey, we won’t fault director Étienne Faure (Chaos, Extremes) for making his weird French film using a Brooklyn backdrop. Bawdy burlesque, attic threesomes, and rooftops where people confess their love to another while smoking do exist here. We just don’t want anyone only taking his word for it.
The most realistic part of this movie is actually the moment when Kim and Betty lose the bar, because that’s how it goes these days. And when Maurice asks them why, Kim responds: “Can’t afford the rent anymore. They’re gonna turn it into fucking condos or something.”