"NY84" is a bleak but affecting portrait of three Manhattan friends from 1980 to '84 or, as the film might have it, from a time of innocence to the era of AIDS. French writer-director Cyril Morin's unconventional, collage-like approach to telling his skeletal story won't be for everyone, but it's a bold effort.
Singer-poet Kate (Sam Quartin), photographer Anton (Chris Schellenger) and painter Keith (Davy J. Marr) live in a crummy Alphabet City apartment where they share a bed, ply their crafts, party and play; "joined at the hip" would be an understatement. How they got there is vague, but they're clearly happy and safe in their cocoon.
That is, until gay and bisexual men such as Anton, Keith and wealthy art patron Harold (Ray Field) start getting mysteriously sick and a disease that would become known as AIDS grows into a deadly epidemic.
The movie's anarchic narrative plays out with limited dialogue and back story, relying more on mood and impressions, scenes of photo and recording sessions, pensive one-sided chats with an unknown interviewer, and tightly shot imagery that deftly evokes time and place on a shoestring.
When Morin ventures into more mundane territory, including several parent-child scenes, the film — and the performances — can feel forced and inauthentic. But as a zeitgeist-heavy memory piece, "NY84" knows its stuff.
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Playing: Arena Cinelounge at the Montalban Theatre, Hollywood; also on VOD