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CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE: Young Noah (Connor Maselli) finds himself at loose ends in 'Around the Bay.'

Father's Day

Local director Alejandro Adams makes splash at Cinequest with intelligent family drama 'Around the Bay'

By Richard von Busack

ONE PHRASE used to describe the films at this year's Cinequest (which starts Feb. 27) is "character-driven." Too often, what that phrase means is unlikely stories put across (or not) by the power of acting. Local director Alejandro Adams' shot-in-Los Gatos feature Around the Bay (which screens March 1, 4 and 8 at the festival) is more of a director-driven film. This remarkably talented newcomer make a compelling story out of well-chosen images and unsaid, unheard or overheard words. Adams shows that he's that rarity among beginning filmmakers. He is someone who understands all the tools of the cinema, such as the importance of the angle of light, the power of sound editing, the direction of a glance and the deft use of a blackout.Most of Around the Bay takes place in the house, guest house and back yard of one of our region's modest local multimillion-dollar upper-middle-class homes. The house is shady, with bamboo and very old fig and oak trees and a small swimming pool rimmed with natural stone. In the first scenes, Noreen (Katherine Darling) is leaving all this. She is wordlessly packing up. Her live-in, Wyatt, has just lost his job. Wyatt is played by Steve Voldseth, a Campbell tax attorney–turned-actor (and turned very successfully, too). In the days to come, the not-young executive is absorbed with his financial troubles. He barely seems to register the presence of his 5-year-old son, Noah (Connor Maselli), a cute child but a true handful.

We cut to Wyatt's 21-year-old daughter from his first marriage. She is Daisy (Katherine Celio), a lovely, rootless girl living in another state. Daisy gets word from her father, asking her to come live with him and mind the boy. Noah is technically Daisy's flesh and blood, but minding him is a strain: the kid knows no boundaries or discipline. Some of this must be due to Wyatt's abstraction. Even when he's there, he's not there. On a field trip with Noah, Daisy makes tentative friends with a fellow book reader, a Russian immigrant (Michael Umansky). And then Noreen decides to return to the picture ...

Adams exhibits superb control of his actors, yet there's nothing but fresh, semi-improvised performances here. Though Around the Bay is an intimate film, this is no small story. The title is apt. Though the action takes place in Los Gatos and uses local locations such as the CalTrain, Leigh's Books and Karin's Bakery, this tale could take place anywhere around the San Francisco Bay, from Petaluma to Scotts Valley. Underscoring this story of fatherly abandonment is the vast influx of money into the Bay Area and the struggle to direct that flood. The visual tension in this film comes the difference between the serene Japanese-themed living spaces and the emotion-killing pressure on the people who live in them. Voldseth's first-rate performance and Adams' direction match the much-praised exposure of soul-barrenness in There Will Be Blood, with none of the attendant melodrama. This is exactly the kind of film one hopes to discover at Cinequest.

Movie Times AROUND THE BAY (Unrated; 106 min.), a film by Alejandro Adams, shows March 1 and 8 at 7:45pm at San Jose Rep and Mach 4 at 4:15pm at Camera 12 in San Jose. Cinequest takes place Feb. 27–March 9. See and for details. (FULL DISCLOSURE: Metro is the official print-media sponsor of the festival.)

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