In writer-director David Fenster’s new film “Pincus,” which had its world premiere as part of the narrative competition at this year’s Los Angeles Film Festival, a young man tries to navigate through his own life while also caring for his father, debilitated by Parkinson’s. The movie stars Fenster’s former CalArts classmate David Nordstrom, as well as the filmmaker’s own father, Paul Fenster, who has been living with Parkinson’s for 13 years.
In the film’s own lyric, delicate way, the character played by Nordstrom – who also starred in Fenster’s 2004 road movie “Trona” and had his own film “Sawdust City” at LAFF last year – seems to be on something of a collision course with himself. More or less purposefully botching jobs as a contractor, the same profession at which his father had been a success, he seems overwhelmed by what to do with himself.
Making a film based in the realities of his own family’s situation, set in his hometown of Miami and including his father in the fiction, could conceivably make “Pincus” seem like some kind of diary or anguished cry. Yet for Fenster it was never quite like that.
“People say the movie is sort of raw, but movies boil things down so much,” Fenster said in an interview at LAFF. “The reality of the situation is complicated, there’s so much pain and humor and all this weird stuff. You can’t get it all in there.”
The project was underwritten by Phil Lord, who has been friends with Fenster since childhood, and more recently co-director of the films “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs” and this year’s hit comedy “21 Jump Street.” Lord received an inheritance following the death of his grandmother, sculptor Fonchen Lord, and decided the money would be best spent on another creative endeavor.
“I thought it needed to be applied to something in the arts that wouldn’t just stop with me,” Lord said. “I’m a big believer in the transformative, exponential power of art, like a reverse pyramid scheme.”
In the film, Nordstrom’s character of Pincus Finster (note the difference in the last name) checks out a yoga studio more or less on the hope of meeting women in tight clothes, which unexpectedly becomes a catalyst for exploring a side of himself that his pot smoking and beer drinking might not allow. The film gradually takes a transition toward something more spiritual before a climactic left-turn into the mystic.
“I think with ‘Trona’ everyone said it was existential,” Fenster said, “I think I used to think existentialism was interesting, this idea that there is no meaning but you create meaning and that’s beautiful. But now I do think there is some extra meaning, that we probably have no understanding of.
“The idea was that the movie would be peppered with this mystic kind of energy, pulling at the sides of things. It wouldn’t necessarily be where you’d think it would be. The idea is that it’s there pulling at him a bit and he feels it in certain instances.”
The mysteries of the film’s ending were a fitting conclusion to Nordstrom to his character’s personal journey. “To me it ends positively,” said Nordstrom, “and maybe that’s just because I know [Fenster’s] experience with [his] dad and the experience of making this film with them. To me it’s the positive embracing of the unknown.”
For Fenster, having his father participate in a fictionalized version of their family story always made sense, and certain of his own intentions, he was never concerned about his father either being taken advantage of in any way or becoming somehow confused by the swirl of reality and fiction he was tossed into.
“That’s the one thing I never had an issue with,” Fenster said of including his father in the film, “and working on this with him has been better for our relationship than anything in the last few years. It gave him something to do, it gave us something we could share. It was a good experience for us. It was never weird or felt like I was pushing him too much.”
“You always risk people misunderstanding you when you say anything,” added Lord. “David and Paul, through their collaboration on this film, did the impossible – they took one of the most horrifying tragedies in the human experience, and made it meaningful. I can't think of a more worthy cause in which to involve one’s family.”
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