All the Ships at Sea
  • All the Ships at Sea

The writer and filmmaker Dan Sallitt had something of a career breakthrough in 2013 when his film The Unspeakable Act received fairly widespread distribution and wound up on a few end-of-year lists, including my own. (You can also purchase it on DVD or stream it on iTunes thanks to home video stalwarts Cinema Guild.) Previously, Sallitt was probably best known as a film critic and former Reader staffer, something he discussed in an interview with Ben Sachs. Appropriately enough, his cinephilic inclinations directly inform his filmmaking: he dedicated The Unspeakable Act to Eric Rohmer, and he might as well have done the same with his two previous films, Honeymoon (1998) and All the Ships at Sea (2004). Those two films have the same talky, intriguingly uneventful flavor of Rohmer’s work. And they also screen as part of a double feature tonight at Columbia College’s Film Row Cinema (1104 S. Wabash) at 7 PM, the first time either film has played in Chicago; Newcity film critic Ray Pride introduces the screenings, and the A.V. Club’s Ignatiy Vishnevetsky leads an audience Q&A afterward.

Sallitt once told an interviewer that “filming two people sitting in a room talking is the ultimate in cinema,” pointing to My Night at Maud’s—with its dramatic character interplay and emphasis on interior space and passing time—as his key influence. He’s not the first American filmmaker to cite the important French director as an influence—Noah Baumbach named his son Rohmer, for Pete’s sake—but alongside Richard Linklater, he’s the only one to adapt a “Rohmerian” model onto intensely personal films.

  • Honeymoon

Intimacy, in the truest, most direct sense, is among the most difficult things to capture on camera, but Sallitt makes it seem impossibly simple. Brilliant dialogue helps, for starters. Sallitt spends a lot of time on his scripts, which partly explains why it takes him so long to release a new film, and his characters have a refined yet engaging way of speaking. But Sallitt’s real artistry starts on a kinetic level: he distills the interactions between his characters to an emotional minimum, defining them by their emotional closeness—each of his four films draw the audience into intimate relationships; two focus on lovers, and the other two focus on siblings—and, perhaps importantly, their physical closeness, placing special emphasis on interior architecture and body placement within a frame.

A wealth of ideas and themes spring from facile scenarios, like two people sitting in a room having a conversation. All the Ships at Sea has more packed into its 64 minutes than most films more than twice its length do, and Honeymoon, though more troublesomely sketchlike in a few spots, is Sallitt’s most trenchant film, utilizing sex and nudity not to titillate the audience but rather to advance the plot and deepen the story’s gender politics. The only bummer about the director’s filmography—aside from it being generally hard to view—is its quantity. But to watch each of his four films in succession is to witness the patient blossoming of Sallitt’s idiosyncratic style, which is quite unlike any other director working in America today. In fact, it’s in your best interest to catch Honeymoon and All the Ships at Sea tonight, then head home to take in The Unspeakable Act online.