A throwback to a kind of New York nightcrawler cinema that hasn't been seen since Abel Ferrara was regularly serving up traumatized urban insanity, "Bag Boy Lover Boy" is also a debut – by Andres Torres -- that has cult movie written all over it.
The inaugural film in Fantasia Fest's just-announced "Fantasia Underground" section (which is a bit like the announcement of a new madhouse at Bellevue) "Bag Boy" is less concerned with narrative cohesion than puncturing artistic pretensions — one of which, apparently, is narrative cohesion.
But Torres has found a weirdly magnetic muse in Jon Wachter, whose character, Albert, is strangeness personified. Pasty, sunken-chested and with a look that exists somewhere between goofy and serial killer – and an accent that may be Dutch, or Hungarian -- he may be borderline autistic. Either way, he works the night shift at a Canal Street hot-dog stand frequented by Lexy (Adrienne Gori), the girl of his dreams, as well as various oddballs and drunken yuppies with a yen for Albert's incinerated wieners.
While working the grill, Albert's inescapable strangeness comes to the attention of the self-important but oddly likable art photographer Ivan (a rather terrific Theodore Bouloukos), who sees Albert as his ticket to Diane Arbus-hood: The kid is too strange not to become a darling of the Manhattan art scene, once Ivan can maneuver the lad into some of his patented porn-sploitation photos. He promises to make Albert a photographer. Albert believes him.
That Albert is a genuine idiot – rather than some benign naïf of whom Ivan is about to take advantage – seems pretty clear pretty quickly, but he also represents a challenge to art-world pretense and presumptions. He may live in the worst Chinatown apartment of recent movie memory (just a guess, but Torres seems to have shot in a lot of borrowed locations, as under cover of darkness) and have the worst job, too. But he can't go with the self-aggrandizing flow. When Ivan puts him in a position where he can make a few bucks, he balks: He wants to learn photography, not be a prop for Ivan's cheesy S&M portraiture, which is apparently intended for uptown gallery patrons who haven't discovered internet porn.
Torres puts his audience in a position where Albert is just a bit maddening: Just give it a go, man, you'll be on Howard Stern by Monday. But no. Luckily for him – and unluckily for several would-be art models -- Ivan is convinced enough that Albert will be his meal ticket that he tolerates his ingratitude, voicing his exasperation only to his assistants Jackie (Kathy Biehl) and Nancy (Kara Serine). But when he goes to Milan for a fashion shoot, and accidentally leaves Albert with the keys to his studio, Albert decides to freelance, luring young women with pretense and promises, and taking Ivan's sadistic photo concepts to their logical, nasty conclusions.
Torres is out to deflate the concepts of art photography, and post-Warholian/Koonsian self-absorption, which is noble enough. But the script by him and Toni Comas is neither as sharply pointed about the emperor's-clothes aspect of the gallery world, nor as funny enough outright as one would wish. The film's chief attraction is the freak-show allure of Albert. And once he gets beyond where you expect him to go, he starts making the unexpected predictable.
Torres shows promise, though, and seems to be happily shrugging off expectations about what cinema, particularly underground cinema – an anachronism, surely – is supposed to be. His digressions are provocative: One black-and-white sequence is straight out of Fellini (so is some of the music, or was it Chaplin?). A dream scene in which a blood-soaked Albert gyrates through his own particular madness provides a glimpse of what our boy is really like, and where he's going. Which is a place that's not wholly uncomfortable, but close.