Sunday, March 12, 2006


My favorite musical group is the incomparable Feo Y Loco -- "The World's Most Politically Incorrect Band." Among their many salaciously satirical songs is "Why Do I Need You When I've Got My Hand?" In a similar fashion one can now say to Hollywood's myopic moguls "Why Do I Need You When I've Got My HANDSHAKE?" For fans of independent cinema everywhere, THE GUATEMALAN HANDSHAKE is exactly what movies should be and all too often are not.

I've long been a huge fan of Todd Rohal (you can call me Vornado if you want). His short films comprise an ecclectic body of work that has been honored at film festivals from coast to coast. In this, his brilliant feature film directorial debut, Rohal once again creates a maddening milieu for a host of Felliniesque characters to inhabit. Shot in Pennsylvania, HANDSHAKE is populated with some of the most quirky, heartwarming, poignant characters this side of the Susquehanna. I call this Pocono Pathos for lack of a better description. It is, yet again, a visionary viewpoint unique to this rising star -- a Rohalian world of folksy fun and fastidious fantasy where the Tilt-O-Wheel is probably the only thing seen on the level.

In the tradition of his short films, Rohal continues to push more envelopes than the U. S. Postal Service in incorporating almost every cinematic trick imaginary to further his vision. This is risky business, indeed, but in the hands of a consummate filmmaker like Rohal the gimmicks work and the end result is more surprises than even March Madness can generate. Whatever you do, do not blink or you will surely miss something. HANDSHAKE requires Visine viewing -- one screening is definitely not enough to catch everything being thrown your way. Even the closing credits are fun: "When in Pennsylvania, please take the time to visit Three Mile Island." You gotta love the sentiment.

The production design by Jim McNamee and Sage Rockermann is noteworthy for not only the overall cheery look of the film, but for the many fun little extras they have meticulously embedded in scene after scene. Cinematographer Richie Sherman crisply lenses the whole thing. In fact, all facets of this production deserve kudos especially given the extremely low budget. Producers Marissa Ronca, Jason Orfanon and Nicholas Panagopulos have clearly put every penny on the screen.

As you must surely have gathered by now, THE GUATEMALAN HANDSHAKE is a must-see for anyone who enjoys cinematic creativity and sagacious story telling. If you are tired of the boring, banal "blockbuster" fare fostered on the local Bijou, do yourself a favor and seek out this little gem. Compared to GUAT, the studios don't know squat...