Reviews

Emily Hubley

USA, 2008

Credits

Review by Rumsey Taylor

Posted on 13 March 2008

Source 35mm print

Categories The 2008 South by Southwest Film Festival

The Toe Tactic is cultivated by a sort of chorus in the form of five animated dogs, each with a distinctive voice and disposition (David Cross and Eli Wallach voice two of them, for example). They all appear onscreen at intervals, and comment on the action at hand involving a young girl, Mona, and her attempt to reconcile the death of her father in a car accident some time prior. They’ll even interact with her discreetly—one steals her cell phone, and another prods her wallet out of her purse, forcibly orchestrating her emotional recovery.

This chorus interacts with the physical world via a series of glyphs placed in a grid of indeterminate units—this is “the toe tactic,” a game that triggers actions in Mona’s life. (Imagine a game of tic-tac-toe played with anything in lieu of X’s and O’s.) These aren’t strictly the product of Mona’s imagination, from what I can tell. Rather, they’re conjured by her grieving, but somehow independent of her own cerebral mode of recovery. This game correlates to the real world, but it’s not rooted in it, and the film denotes the distinction well: the chorus of dogs appears as pencil or watercolor drawings, and their shapes retain a simple geometry. The visuals are varied, but perhaps a bit too varied; the film’s sensitivity is manifest in each scene, but the visuals are incongruent, switching regularly between the physical world and an imagined, more spiritual one.

This disparateness regularly took me out of the film, and the unanimated portion, in and of itself, is sufficient in demonstrating the integrity of this girl’s particular grievance. There is some difficulty, I imagine, for a film to offer a unique, considered approach to loss and reconciliation, and The Toe Tactic does so with much originality, but it’s originality at the expense of comprehensibility. My interpretation of this film is that it resembles a sort of defense mechanism, one unique to the central character. She’s a creative type, a sketchpad always within her grasp, and the aforementioned glyphs all have meaning to her—the viewer is not able to fully interpret these.

The Toe Tactic is a highly original film with a particular artistry, whimsy, and a peculiar humor, but it’s also, and somewhat paradoxically, brazenly esoteric. Accessibility can compromise art, and this is especially the case with film, which must often consider a roomful of people. In order to identify with someone else’s vision one must first be able to access it, and the problem here is that The Toe Tactic creates and relies upon its own language. I acknowledge its uniqueness, but its language is one I’m not yet capable of speaking.

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