Cinema Signal: A no-budget Ellen Page starrer from her novice years. Flawed, worth seeing.

Blood Feud:
Murder and Revenge in Anglo-Saxon England

. "Mouth To Mouth"

It's not every low budget import that holds the same level of advance excitement for me that something like "Mouth To Mouth" does, but that's how anxious I was to see Ellen Page again after "Hard Candy." I don't equate the films, of course. The interest comes from seeing a future movie star in the act of becoming, like a super nova appearing in the scanning window of the hubble space telescope.

In Alison Murray's scenario about a group of homeless people in Northern Europe forming into a radical cult, Page plays Sherry, a young runaway new to the streets, a virgin, clueless. Responding to a leaflet invitation to join other homeless people for a presentation, she meets Tiger and Harry who offer an alternative. Harry's offer for gangbangers and the disenfranchised flotsam of society is his collective, called SPARK, for "Street People Armed with Radical Knowledge." The knowledge may not be so great, but radical it is.

It's also dimly lit and strangely motivated. As though to convince the motley onlookers assembled, the presentation includes a demonstration of mouth to mouth resuscitation technique. Dare one ask why? The weirdness of the choice comes clear later, so be patient.

Sherry joins the apparently free group, making an effort to fold into their means of survival, their social dynamics, and their road trip. But, in the process, she will learn that freedom has its price as one set of rules is replaced by another.

After some revelry, and the loss of one of their busses in a nighttime rave game gone awry, the group makes its way south to a vineyard retreat Harry has set up as the base for his commune. There, he turns his cleaned up druggies into a wine-producing cooperative so that they're no longer dependent on what they find in garbage bins. His rules are strict and contain a semblance of justice by groupthink, which he ably manipulates to his notion of right and wrong.

Adherence to the guru's manifesto is paramount; and in good communal interdependence, if not communistic, everyone who idolizes him will relate to the group, not to each other as individuals. Sex is forbidden, though good old Harry, despite all his discipline, will succumb to the virginal charms of his young participant in need of emotional contact and then punish her for it.

Conflicted about what she's living through and less than fulfilled by what it provides, she calls Mom, and we get a glimpse of the kind of clash that typifies the realtionship and the reason for Sherry's departure from her protected home life. But Mom's love for her daughter knows bounds, and she drives 3,000 miles to wrest her away from the commune. Only when her communal experiences from the 70's are aroused by the life and values of the collective, changes twist the expected outcome.

The first act, intended to elaborate on the wild, self-destructive nature of the individuals, gets the drama off to a lazy, somewhat unengaging start. It's only when the group gets to the communal vineyard and Harry emerges as the driving force and wily charismatic guru who controls his masses does the drama begin to assert its agenda and meaning. The low budget looks, at times, like no budget, with scenes lit by nothing more than a unhelpfully placed street light so that the 16mm film blown up to 35 is unable to define faces and expressions. Exactly when we (and our heroine) are trying to grasp the main characters and what their story is trying to convey, faces are lost in shadowy obscurity. The photography is not an impressive factor here.

But, worse, getting the production into the daylight does little to pump interest into characters who never become more than cutouts of stereotypical people we've become familiar with from movie re-creations of horrific cult tragedies. While it steers well clear of Manson's "Helter Skelter" and Jim Jones' mass suicide fiasco in Jonestown, its reliance on the delusional stereotype never rises above superficiality. But, at least, this instance of Messianic misdirection is relatively mild.

The "love story" that emerges between Sherry and Mad Ax, given his characterization as an unfocused, unsocial dingbat, engenders more a reaction of "Oh, no" than satisfaction. This alliance that Murray may think of as a love connection is too uncomfortable to accept or draw lines at the boxoffice, despite the possibility that it may be pleasingly radical for the festival crowd who may well consider it awesome.

Page is fine in the role, but hardly the fascinating shock and awe of her feisty avenger in "Hard Candy." Clearly, however, she's got the looks and the internal landscape to provide an awkward plot with enough emotional hook to hang on to. The bonding power of this supernova in the making can carry a movie and she pretty much salvages this one.

Page is sure to burst into the ranks of stardom with her upcoming appearance in "X-men: The Last Stand." Talk about anxiety to see a film!

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