directed by Matthew Porterfield
by Walter Chaw Matthew Porterfield's quiet and humane I Used to Be Darker provides an interesting contrast to Richard Linklater's talkier improvisations while covering the same interpersonal landscapes of how people speak to one another, react to one another, and interact physically within a space. One of the first images is of a little Irish girl, Taryn (Deragh Campbell), taking a knife to a couple of paintings. It's a rejection of many things, as well as a declaration. I Used to Be Darker will privilege the cinematic (i.e., showcase the complexity and eloquence of communication through moving pictures), and Porterfield's DP on this production, Jeremy Saulnier, who's pulled off something like a masterpiece with his own Blue Ruin, is just the man to do it. Taryn, run away from the UK all the way to the U.S. to stay with her aunt and uncle, discovers that she's gone from perceived familial strife to tangible familial strife, as the pair is in the process of separating--leaving Taryn's cousin Abby (Hannah Gross) embittered and caught in the middle. More clues to Porterfield's intent come in the casting of musicians Ned Oldham and Kim Taylor as the aunt and uncle: non-actors (as is Porterfield's practice through three films), both, they inhabit their roles with the winsomeness, and indistinctness, of dedicated artists. It's not a far reach for them to access the despair that's essential, I think, to a certain kind of creation, and Porterfield allows them each a moment to express themselves in song: one in a basement before Oldham destroys his instrument, the other on stage and then over the closing-credits, with the coda being a sigh from Taylor and a little shake of her head. I Used to Be Darker isn't about anything more complicated than observing unhappiness and conflict; take it as the counterpoint to Felix Van Groeningen's Broken Circle Breakdown: the quiet between notes, a celebration if you can call something this downbeat celebratory, of what film should act like and look like when you leave it alone.