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Review: Future cult classic ‘Strawberry Mansion’ is one of the most unique indie visions in years

Kentucker Audley and Grace Glowicki sit across from each other in “Strawberry Mansion.”
Kentucker Audley and Grace Glowicki in “Strawberry Mansion.”
(Music Box Films)
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While we’re asleep, logic escapes the fabrications of our subconscious. Yet these preposterous tales often reveal true fears and yearnings — a purity of emotion that’s worth preserving. It takes a certain kind of unbound filmic storytelling to replicate such experience, and that’s both the novelty and the basis for the whimsically poetic sci-fi fantasy “Strawberry Mansion,” from co-directors Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney.

In the year 2035, human dreams are routinely recorded and taxed based on their components — that recurring dream of a hot air balloon is going to cost you. Audley stars as James Preble, a reserved auditor tasked with sifting through numerous VHS tapes that contain the unconscious visions of Arabella Isadora (Penny Fuller), an elderly woman certain that corporations have infiltrated people’s minds to advertise their products.

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While perusing her dreamscapes in a holographic form, Preble becomes enamored with the image of young Bella (Grace Glowicki), giving way to a romantic adventure in an atemporal space where the rules of reality cease to exist. Audley and Birney approach this fanciful frontier within their low-budget means, and succeed at immersing the viewer in their collage of ideas. Plot, beyond Preble surviving a house on fire, is deliberately secondary.

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Shot on digital but lovingly transferred to film, the imaginative directors confect a realm of tactile magic, with Kafkaesque flourishes, through the ingenious handcraftsmanship of practical elements and low-fi effects. A spiritual disciple of Michel Gondry’s “The Science of Sleep” and Spike Jonze’s “Being John Malkovich,” their brainchild brims with staggering originality.

Anthropomorphic animals in the form of actors in suits and masks, including a cameo of the title character of the duo’s previous film “Sylvio,” populate a vivid universe with humbly sumptuous production design. Tyler Davis’ cinematography, notable throughout for its richness of color and texture, transports the viewer to a kingdom of possibility best seen in a montage of an idyllic island set to the soaring sounds of Dan Deacon’s electronic score.

With endless inventiveness reminiscent of the tangible wonderment achieved by cinematic forefathers Georges Méliès or Ray Harryhausen, “Strawberry Mansion” is one of the most unique American independent films to open its doors in recent memory. Only time will tell if it can attain the cult status that its charming idiosyncrasy most definitely merits.

‘Strawberry Mansion’

Not Rated

Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes

Playing: Starts Feb. 18 at Landmark Westwood; also on VOD Feb. 25

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