Aspen Shortsfest winner ‘The Passage’ released online
Absurd physical comedy, silent-film style and the genius of Philip Burgers come together in this wild, globe-trotting misadventure.
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, it has won awards at six film festivals since its premiere at Sundance in January.
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.
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The FilmStruck release is bittersweet, as the streaming service — beloved by cinephiles for housing classic films and the Criterion Collection’s extensive library — will end Nov. 29. The service is being axed by the newly formed WarnerMedia as a result of the Time Warner and AT&T merger. The service is no longer taking on new subscribers, so you can only see “The Passage” there if you already have an account. It will remain on other platforms after FilmStruck closes.
“The Passage” 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 before the Shortsfest screening. “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.
“Mostly people are along for the ride, which we hoped to achieve,” Sakurai said. “It’s all designed to suck you into this world.”
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