Aspen Shortsfest: Super Deluxe’s ‘The Passage’ is a globe-trotting misadventure
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘The Passage’ at Aspen Shortsfest
Where: Wheeler Opera House
When: Wednesday, April 4, 8 p.m.
How much: $20 ($15 for Aspen Film members)
Tickets: Wheeler Opera House box office; www.aspenshowtix.com
More info: ‘The Passage’ is one of seven short films in a 94-minute program Wednesday night; it will be preceded by a 5:15 p.m. program and followed by an Apres Screening event at Mountain Social in the St. Regis from 10 p.m. to midnight; www.aspenfilm.org
Absurd physical comedy, silent film style and the genius of Philip Burgers come together in the wild, globe-trotting misadventure of “The Passage.”
Starring Burgers as a silent man on the run from shady agents, it hops from the air to the sea to a Japanese sauna, a Spanish-language church service and a Haitian family home, where our bumbling hero finds help and skirts death at every turn. It’s a 22-minute tour de force of visual storytelling and Buster Keaton-esque gestures that say more than any dialogue could. Several languages are spoken throughout this surreal extended chase sequence, but no subtitles are necessary.
Directed by Kitao Sakurai of “The Eric Andre Show” and produced by the Adult Swim stalwart comedy duo Tim & Eric and the production company Super Deluxe, “The Passage” will screen tonight at Aspen Shortsfest.
The project began with Burgers and Sakurai talking through ideas for several bits and fish-out-of-water sketches. “The Passage” was born when they realized they could link them together into a short film odyssey.
“It had a lot to do with being inspired by L.A.’s multiculturalism, but also feeling alone or unable to access the other world,” Sakurai explained. “Those are the themes we’re trying to explore here.”
As the director of “The Eric Andre Show,” Sakurai has well-honed skills directing bizarre and absurd comedy and a knack for capturing physical comedy.
Because none of the film is driven by dialogue, the script was an odd outline that proved almost irrelevant to the filmmaking. Instead, Sakurai and his crew rehearsed with Burgers and worked out the film physically.
“Our process was to get things on their feet and explore them physically,” he said. “We videotaped a lot of things and explored them that way.”
He filmed each scene without many — sometimes any — cuts, to let Burger and the cast play them out and keep the audience in rhythm.
“Phil is a genius with physical comedy and these harder-to-articulate, more tonal and spiritual ideas,” Sakurai said. “It was a joy to work with him.”
It does take a minute or two to figure out what’s happening with the film, as it jumps straight into its multilingual dialogue and hops from a dramatic skydiving opening sequence to a confrontation between hit men and a church band. But Sakurai said in the handful of screenings the film has had — at the Sundance Film Festival and at the Lyric Hyperion theater in Los Angeles — audiences got on board quickly.
“Mostly people are along for the ride, which we hoped to achieve,” Sakurai said. “It’s all designed to suck you into this world.”
Sakurai, Burgers and the Super Deluxe team are still figuring out how they’ll distribute “The Passage” after its festival run. It could land on television as a series or grow into something bigger. So after Shortsfest, we probably won’t have seen the last of this strange universe.
“For now we’re getting this out there,” Sakurai said. “But we are in the process of pitching it around and we would absolutely love to make more.”
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