There is a weightlessness to the actions that comprise Zach Weintraub’s The International Sign for Choking, the eventual emotional impact of which is suspended within the surrounding space, lingering well before and well after they have wafted by, gracing the presence of their unintentional targets. Not in a series of malicious activities with the intent of harm and damage, but more so in a seemingly-never-ending deluge of communication breakdowns, withholdings of information and the outright oblivion of body language.
Weintraub’s film is focused on growth, or at least the potential of growth. A character study in opposition of the standard character development chart path, employing a much more realistic trajectory by displaying an extended moment in time where a need for change (a need for personal improvement) is identifiable for the character, perhaps not in the present but in the moments of retrospection that remain nonexistent but imaginable. The viewer is witnessing the seeds of personal growth being planted, interspersed amongst the tiny victories and the multitude of mistakes while the extent (even actuality) of the harvest will never be known.
Weintraub leaves the future a mystery, concluding the film with an image we’ve grown familiar with – Josh alone in his room, his existence on the verge of being snuffed out entirely by the vibrancy of the floral wallpaper that marks the majority of the frame. Although, this time Josh occupies the frame with his back facing the camera (folding his clothes for departure), facial expressions hidden along with any clues to his current state. Parting ways with him in a state of transitional limbo, Weintraub lets his occupancy linger, as with everything else, in the vapors of uncertainty.
A sense of loneliness and isolation – drifting between contented and agitated – pervades much of the film, not only through the nature of Weintraub’s script and the emotional centers of the performances but also in the way Nandan Rao frames the actions. The majority of which are comprised of stationary glances of the mundane – camera movements sparse, never superfluous – as light, placement and angle converge, culminating in one astonishing, simplistic scene after another.
A marvelous work of Minimalism, not only do the images Rao and Weintraub create effectively convey so much while utilizing so little (most involve Weintraub simply sitting in a space), these images undertake the task of thematic heavy-lifting. A parade of should-be-uninteresting scenes rendered into the antithesis of such, Rao and Weintraub’s shot compositions continually flirt with perfection: Weintraub’s spectacled face an afterthought in a wealth of garishly-patterned walls; his elongated shadow stretching back, out across the light, towards the comforts of his original position, afar and free from effort; Rao’s off-center framing failing to contain the figures of Sophia Takal and Weintraub in full.
A modest representation of one man’s stumbling phase of adult life, his faults and blunders are minuscule in the grand scheme of things, yet they remain all-encompassing in their applicability in one way or another; like a non-judgmental mirror (slightly askew) casting almost imperceptible flaws back out into the world, don’t be surprised if you catch a momentary glimpse of yourself.