Interview/Review by Bears Fonte
“It’s described as a Mal Heart because it’s violating the law of space/time,” says writer/director Sarah Adina Smith about her new genre-defying and Rami Malik starring drama BUSTER’S MAL HEART, “It’s not playing by the rules. The heart is a bug in the system.” World Premiering at TIFF last year, Smith’s film, which also stars Kate Lyn Sheil and DJ Qualls, embraces its own absurdity and puts chaos (and maybe chaos theory) on screen.
Malek plays both Jonah, a hard-working hotel night clerk, and Buster, a recluse mountain man on the run from authorities who regularly calls in to rant on radio talk shows. He also plays a man trapped on a rowboat which is either Jonah or Buster or both… One personality seems to be a memory of the other, or a nightmare of the other. It is the kind of difficult story-telling that we rarely witness in the big-box megaplex world where galaxies have guardians and Tom Hanks challenges himself by wearing a sweater. BUSTER’S MAL HEART is the kind of film that gives back to its audience, offering questions and possibilities and leaving itself open to rewatching. Kate Lyn Sheil, who is always good, gives the film its emotional center, something for Malek’s Jonah to tie himself to. DJ Qualls, who I’ve loved since ROAD TRIP, delivers a nuanced turn as a conspiracy theory hustler who makes Jonah question everything he knows.
Smith’s film captures the viewer in a web of mystery, where they struggle to figure out how all the personalities are related, and what that means to their own life. It is an enigmatic journey the rewards the watcher at every turn, filled with confident direction and beautiful imagery. I had a chance to discuss BUSTER’S MAL HEART after it made its US Premiere last year at Fantastic Fest.
Sarah Adina Smith: Yeah, I didn’t even think about that one. In my childhood, water was always a place of magic for me. The feeling of suspension and floating and just letting go completely was this feeling of peace but it was also, danger in that. Water is supposed to be this warm embrace but also can kill you. It’s always been so fascinating for me for some reason. And mystical. The way sound travels through water. It’s like a state of mind that I like to mimic.
Bears: And it also looks so gorgeous because the way you can film below and above it, and have characters disappear in it.
Smith: Yeah. It is the source of all life, and one of the most mysterious things on this planet, honestly. I’m very drawn to water. My next movie actually also involves a water crisis. So clearly, I can’t stop talking about it.
Bears: So was there any particular one of Buster’s existences that came to you first and then you built around that?
Bears: So obviously a lot of conversation about the film right now is about the central character, the actor, Rami Malek. You’ve put him in this unique situation where he gets to have this fantastic role.
Smith: He definitely flexes his acting muscles for sure.
Bears: Yeah, that’s like a dream role for an actor. I don’t know what the timeline was because he’s gigantic. Did you luck into him before that happened or what?
Bears: I love the cosmic, psychobabble he’s watching on television. Was there a lot of research put into that? Where did you come up with that kind of stuff?
Smith: Well, I’m really always interested— it was in THE MIDNIGHT SWIM too— but I like TV’s as these windows to other worlds, or windows to truths in some way. Even though there’s a lot of humor in that, it kind of sounds like psychobabble as you put it. I think there are revelations happening there and it’s really up to the viewer whether they want to decide if this a reflection of what’s going on in his mind or this is the other side, the Forces that Be are really speaking to him through different programs.
Smith: There are! There were some beautiful things I had to cut that had even more triangles. But the toenail triangle was actually a mix of my fingernails and my husband’s. We mingled nail clippings.
Bears: You didn’t want to ask your props person to do that.
Smith: We collected them in a little Altoid tin. This is just kind of the hands-on filmmakers we are.
Bears: That’s great. I love the credits at the end as they went by and you could see the triangle.
Smith: I wanted to leave the audience with a feeling of peace. I think that’s what the movie’s after, is to give the audience a brief respite from the madness of eternal occurrence, if you will. From the merciless machine that wanted to give the audience a moment of peace at the end, even if it’s a brief moment of peace.
Bears: It’s interesting because everyone talks about triangles as being the most stable geometrical shape. You think of a stool, like three legs is more stable than four no matter what. And yet, you’re talking about a film where you’ve got three points of reference, and the entire film is about being unstable, essentially. Trying to find that stability.
Bears: So THE MIDNIGHT SWIM, it’s about sisters and has a very strong female sensibility in terms of the mother passing things down. I was really surprised that this film is really a man’s story and the main relationship that we see isn’t really between Buster and his wife, although that is a lovely relationship. But it’s between Buster and this crazy guy telling him about the end of the world.
Smith: And Buster and himself, really.
Bears: So tell me a little bit about that choice and how different that was for you.
Sarah Adina Smith’s BUSTER’S MAL HEART is currently playing in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Phoenix, San Francisco and Seattle, and opens in Denver, Houston, Kansisas City, Portland, Toronto and many other cities on May 12th.