Heavy Traffic: Melanie Shatzky and Brian M. Cassidy’s Interchange
In Interchange (2018), the persistent sound of cars whooshing by on the looming concrete slabs of the titular infrastructure connecting ramps, entrances, and exits for multitudinous highways overshadows lives lived in the near vicinity. Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky’s feature is a kind of ecology of people and places around an interchange located around the outskirts of Montreal.
Premiering at the 2018 Berlinale Forum, Interchange marks the filmmakers’ first feature since their 2012 narrative film, Francine. Working together for roughly ten years now, these micro-budget and truly independent filmmakers have created a body of work that is at the intersection of cinema and photography. (In 2015, they guest programmed a series at the Montreal International Documentary Film Festival on this very subject). Their films capture the textures and emotions inherent in the particular locations that their films are set in. “God Provides” (2007) takes place in the South after Hurricane Katrina, where Christians lend a helping and frequently hurting hand. “The Delaware Project” (2007) alternates and links a young woman’s broken blood vessel with semi-built houses dotting the state’s plains. The Patron Saints (2011) is a bitter, bleak film taking account of residents residing within the drab white walls of a nursing home. Cassidy’s “Call Center” (2014), in a matter of four minutes, describes the effort put into a low-budget infomercial for a low-rent telemarketing agency. Cassidy peels back the curtain to reveal the fakery involved in the proceedings: an actor changes her behavior depending whether a camera is on or not; a cue card (simply a folded, crumpled piece of paper) is placed in front of an older woman to read as a testimonial; a sleazy businessman instructs an employer to call the agency a “call center,” not an “answering service.” In their work, Shatzky and Cassidy not only record details of a particular milieu, but they also manipulate their images to subtly draw attention to inherent artifice. With a mix of photography and cinema, and a sensitivity for locations, Interchange is perhaps the clearest display of their interests yet.
As the sound of a semi-truck speeds by, Interchange opens with a girl in a teal dress gently swaying on a swing in the foreground, comfortable and at ease as cars zoom by in the middle- and background. The creak of the swing creates a repetitive tone that’s interrupted by the traffic. The title card, wrapped in silence, follows. Next, there’s a shot of a busy intersection. There’s the persistent buzz of a jackhammer. A horn blares. Sirens whine. An intermittent beeping signals a car backing up. The brakes of a gunmetal gray four-door car screech as it halts abruptly at a red stoplight. It’s a cacophony of sounds to accompany the flow of movement hither and thither by the assortment of vehicles.
Like the first two images, Interchange progresses by alternating between still, portrait-like shots (a blue-eyed, grey-haired man drinking a Coke while looking out of a fast food restaurant’s window; a kid on a bike holding up a fan; a boy sitting and smoking, his back to the brick wall) and shots devoid of people, focusing on details (“crook” imprinted in the concrete of a misshapen sidewalk; the headstones and fresh dirt of a recent burial in a cemetery; a sedan in a neon-lit car wash). Each and every shot is a static one. Each dynamic composition features punched up colors and sound design, which often leads the viewer’s eye to certain focal points on screen. Interchange’s overarching structure consists of two morning-to-night days around the road juncture. The days neatly split the film into two parts, within which one eventually notices patterns, such as Shatzky and Cassidy’s frequent shots of people in phone booths. Only twice do you hear a human voice, and one of them is when a man tells a confidante over the phone that he’s picking up cans to pass the time. The other is the song “Déjà” heard over the soundtrack. With spoken lyrics that go, “It’s not only cars that go to 100 / It’s tiring / Time, too, rushes by,” the song renders the film’s meaning explicit.
With its quiet cartoon plasticity, Interchange is a Tati-esque account of neglected spaces and faces. The steady flow of traffic on the highway contrasts with the contemplative silence of the gas stations, laundromats, bus stops, homes, and phone booths. In Interchange, it’s as if these isolated spaces have defiantly paused as the cars speed on to get to wherever they need to be. Sprawling amid the interchange, there’s no rush — no one’s going anywhere in these places.