A Bread Factory, Part One (2018) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Art and Community

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“A Bread Factory, Part One”, which fortunately happens to be shown at the 20th Jeonju International Film Festival along with “A Bread Factory, Part Two”, is a rich, colorful slice of life which is full of wonderful individual moments to be savored and appreciated. While it mainly revolves around an urgent matter of its two main characters, it takes its time for fully establishing its story, characters, and background for us, and we come to want more when we eventually arrive at its last shot.

At the beginning, we gradually get to know about the life of Dorothea (Tyne Daly) and Greta (Elisabeth Henry), a middle-aged lesbian couple who has run a community arts center for 40 years in a small town in New York state. Although their annual budget is rather modest and their shabby building, which was once a bread factory before they bought it, frequently needs more maintenance and repair, they have always worked hard for bringing art into the daily life of their neighbors, and they are currently planning for the stage performance of a classic Greek tragedy written by Euripides.

However, there is a serious trouble for their community arts center. A couple of hipster artists from China, named Ray (George Young) and May (Janet Hsieh), recently moved into the town, and they subsequently built their own center where they give your typical artsy modern performance day by day. Although I must confess that I really have no idea on what they are exactly trying to express via their performance, their performance is flashy and fancy enough to draw the attention of many people in the town, and it seems quite possible that the town administrators will decide to give their annual budget for community arts to Ray and May instead of Dorothea and Greta.

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While closely observing how Dorothea and Greta try to do as much as they can for saving their community arts center, the movie also lets us get to know a number of town residents. There is a seasoned local newspaper editor who comes to delve into who has been indirectly promoting Ray and May’s arts center, and some of the most amusing moments in the film come from her interactions with a high school kid who is virtually the sole employee of the local newspaper. In case of an aging actor called ‘Sir Walter’, it looks like he has been losing his touch like Albert Finney’s character in “The Dresser” (1983), but he still knows how to act, and we accordingly get a long but wonderful scene showing him getting gradually improved during a rehearsal session at the community arts center.

My personal favorite supporting character in the film is a young boy who has worked as a projectionist at the community arts center. When some female movie director is invited to the community arts center, he does not hesitate to tell her that he is a big fan of her works, and, as shown later from one funny moment, he certainly comes to learn a bit from her. During a crucial scene where he comes to learn about how his presence at the community arts center can cause an unintentional trouble for Dorothea and Greta, the camera just looks at him from behind, but his thoughts and feelings are clearly conveyed to us, and we later get another memorable moment in the film when Greta visits that boy’s house.

In the end, the story culminates to a town meeting where Dorothea, Greta, and their supporters try to persuade their town administrators not to stop supporting their community arts center, but the movie keeps maintaining its calm attitude even though the situation becomes quite more absurd and dramatic than we expected. While it may be rather hard for you to keep your face straight during several silly moments including the one involved with some art critic guy who wrote an embarrassingly flattering review on May and Ray’s performance, the movie never overlooks what is being at stake for Dorothea and Greta, and we certainly come to root for them as watching how they and some of their supporters handle the circumstance with no-nonsense pragmatism.

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The movie is the third feature film made by director/writer Patrick Wang, who previously impressed me with his remarkable debut feature film “In the Family” (2011). He is a talented filmmaker who knows how to engage and interest us via good storytelling, and I particularly admire how he deftly handles his characters while also generating the vivid, palpable sense of life on the screen. Through those small human moments among its numerous characters including Dorothea and Greta, the movie slowly has us immersed into their daily life, and they feel more like real living people to us as a result.

The cast members of the movie are uniformly good in their effortless ensemble performance. Tyne Daly and Elizabeth Henry are believable as two colorful women who have been inseparable from each other for many years, and I enjoyed how they ably complement each other whenever they happen to be on the screen together. In case of other substantial players in the film, they respectively have each own moment to shine, and the special mention goes to Brian Murray, who is constantly fun to watch whenever he appears on the screen.

On the whole, “A Bread Factory, Part One” did a very good job of preparing us for “A Bread Factory, Part Two”, and I felt quite satisfied in the end as reflecting more on how fluidly it moved from one precious moment to another without any misstep. This is another superb work from Wang, and I wholeheartedly urge you to watch it as soon as possible.

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