While technically a “Covid film,” shot on weekends with friends and family during the first wave of lockdowns in early 2020, Tyler Taormina’s Happer’s Comet doesn’t have any designs on grand, how we live now statements. Instead, the technical and logistical issues of making a movie during a pandemic have seemingly seeped into the aesthetic of the actual object itself. Transporting the moody, elliptical storytelling of his first feature, Ham on Rye, onto an even more sparse canvas, Taormina conjures a somnambulist journey through a single night in a nondescript suburban enclave. Everyone here is isolated, every space eerily liminal, until quiet moments of tender connectedness, at last, coalesce in the film’s final moments.
That being the operating mode, there’s virtually no story here to synopsize, as Taormina instead scribbles a series of potential narrative threads around the film’s margins through cryptic, privileged moments. The opening credits play over an extreme close-up of a rotting ear of corn; the camera then begins languidly panning across dark living rooms, empty foyers, and basements, rendering these familiar, lived-in spaces almost alien. A young man furtively applies makeup while alone in his bedroom, while an older man preens in front of a mirror, obviously still proud of his aged physique. An elderly woman nods off in her kitchen, while another shot follows a family dog as it traipses around the house. There are no establishing shots, no recognition of when we are leaving one home and entering another. It is instead a sort of mosaic, occasionally interrupted by recurring shots of a police cruiser prowling the streets with its spotlight on, the bright light source beaming into homes through half-closed blinds. Another scene finds a man trying not to fall asleep behind the wheel of his car; the automobile drifting toward a median creates an immediate tension, a fissure in the otherwise calm mood.
There’s a casual surrealism to the endeavor, perhaps not a surprise to anyone who saw Ham on Rye, with its strange central conceit. Gradually, a number of people begin putting on rollerblades and quietly exiting their homes, as if drawn to some unknown beacon. Indeed, this is a film of apparitions, the mundane suburban milieu rendered otherworldly and ghostly. It’s all the more lovely, then, when Taormina ends his film with a series of embraces, various couples enmeshed in a cornfield and each other’s bodies. Here, finally, is a concrete, tactile recognition of human interconnectedness. Like a mysterious dream that begins to dissipate upon waking, Happer’s Comet feels like stumbling around and blindly reaching out in the dark, and the sweet waves of relief at finding someone still next to you. It’s a deeply beautiful piece of work.
Published as part of Berlin Film Festival 2022 — Dispatch 1.