Prolific indie filmmakers Mike Ott and Nathan Silver team up for the experimental and meta “Actor Martinez,” an exploration into the oftentimes difficult process of unearthing the honesty in acting. They take an interesting route to the truth, deliberately obfuscating the line between fiction and nonfiction in a film within a film, lulling the audience into one reality and then abruptly jarring you out of one scenario and into another.
It’s a process that mirrors the psychological journey of the subject/protagonist, Arthur Martinez. The premise is that Ott and Silver are making a semi-autobiographical film about Martinez, who is a Denver-area actor/local film promoter/computer repairman. The film nested inside “Actor Martinez” follows the life and routine of Martinez, until Ott and Silver decide to push their performer by casting him a girlfriend, in order to draw out any residual emotions about his ex-wife. They land on Lindsay Burdge (“Mistress America,” “The Invitation”) whom they cast for her “name.”
Ott and Silver appear often onscreen, usually to needle Martinez about his lack of emotional honesty or to discuss the direction of the film. They become increasingly caustic, smoking and drinking their way through the process, and getting more and more hostile with Martinez and even Burdge. Are they asshole directors, or are they just performing the role of asshole directors? Is Lindsay performing the role of the overly sensitive actress? What is Arthur performing? These are the questions that power the project, and are never answered.
It’s an experiment and it’s never really clear whether Martinez is a willing participant, though it’s discussed ad nauseam, and Burdge herself brings up the question of exploitation in Martinez’s company. The most fascinating parts of the film are when Ott, Silver, Martinez, and sometimes Burdge practice a kind of radical honesty with each other over jars of whiskey, while ostensibly discussing the filmmaking process.
Martinez also serves as a kind of foil to the indie ethos of the filmmakers, or at least an antagonist against which they can verbalize and assert their beliefs about filmmaking. As a local film promoter, he describes himself as a producer, and when he argues for the “marketable” choice (in casting actresses or anything else), it provides an opportunity for Ott or Silver to argue against that idea in favor of making the best or most pure film.
In reality (your grasp on which might be tenuous at best after watching this film), “Actor Martinez” is intentionally un-marketable, wallowing in its own ambiguity and awkwardness. But Silver and Ott have never been in the business of intentionally trying to please wide audiences, instead creating truly independent oeuvres that cater not even to a niche audience but to their own impulses, pushing the boundaries of the style and storytelling of independent film, more often making the idiosyncratic choice instead of the popular one.
“Actor Martinez” is a fascinating collaboration between these two filmmakers, who seem willing to pillory their own image and dissect the nature of moviemaking in order to uncover real cinematic truth. Probably the closest comparison would be Agnès Varda’s 1988 collaboration with Jane Birkin, “Jane B. Par Agnès V,” which uses a similar disruptive pattern to call attention to the relationship between the camera and the muse, blurring the subject and the object. Ott, Silver, and even Martinez embrace this blurring and disruption, but they’re smart and self-aware enough to call themselves out in the process too. [B+]
Browse through all our coverage of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival by clicking here.