"Other Way Round" at Studio on the Square Tonight 

In Other Way Round, the feature film debut by Memphian Brian Pera, memory, identity, interpersonal connectivity, and grief are commingled to form a work that is literate and artistic. Filmed digitally (on a Canon XL2) in Memphis, West Memphis, and Hardy, Arkansas, Other Way Round invokes William Faulkner, Eastern philosophy, and the psychology of loss.

As the film begins, during the opening title sequence, indistinct, gauzy scenes of lovemaking take place. Who the figures are is a mystery, as is the truth behind other images that appear interspersed.

As the story begins proper, a group of guys stage a kind of intervention for a bedraggled man, Otto (also Brian Pera), stuck in bed for two months surrounded by prescription sleeping pills. What precipitated his freefall remains for the time unclear, though it can be assumed, by his friends’ concern, that he hasn’t always been this way.

Much of the film is spent piecing together the narrative. Otto’s story is told both forward and backward as the film progresses, punctuated by sequences of trippy and not-contextualized images and words that build on, and eventually reveal the solution of, the mystery at the center of Otto’s life. These freak-out sequences are expertly — and beautifully — done. Writer/director/star Pera is at the top of his game here.

Other Way Round is based on Pera’s own novel, Freefall. As a director, Pera makes quite the impression. The film is made in both black and white and color. In black and white, Pera proves himself adept at framing a shot, and the film is improved by his attentive eye to faces and shapes. In color, Other Way Round is gorgeous. The color and quality look as good as anything you’ll see at the multiplex (which is where the film is screening tonight, at Studio on the Square).

Separating the symbolic signifiers of the black and white and color scenes is sometimes tricky work. Black and white may mean a flashback or the real world. Color may mean a dream, a fabricated story, a fantasy, or a drug trip. Then again, their implementation may be emotional clues to the lead character’s state of mind. And, of course, it could be all of the above.

Furthering this mode is the score by Harlan T. Bobo. Bobo provides expansive music figures that often have a calming influence on the proceedings. Sometimes juxtaposed to the score, however, are images, actions, and implications that are unsettling, or, at the least, not calming.

By stepping on the toes of what might be thought of as mainstream storytelling, Pera creates a work that engages the audience, rewards careful attention, and creates, in this viewer at least, a feeling of not knowing what is to come next — and liking it. This unpredictability is so rare in film, and, along with Pera’s clear talent for filmmaking, it’s a great foundation to build upon for future projects. I, for one, can’t wait to see what’s next. — Greg Akers

Other Way Round screens Wednesday, April 25th, at 7 p.m. at Studio on the Square.

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