(Andrew Bujalski, 2013)
Where Bujalski got this particular mix of comedy, disturbing sci-fi and complex, finely wrought retro drama from seems deeply mysterious. At times it resembles the mumblecore material with which he made his name - awkward social situations filled with inarticulate and geeky individuals - only here they are specifically captured in a particular time and place.
That would be sometime in the early 1980s at a Computer Chess convention in a hotel, where programmers and chess players have gathered to pit man against machine in a series of contests. We learn about the conflicts, problems and obsessions of these people as the film progresses and their convention is thrown into relief by the event they find themselves sharing the hotel with; a cultish group of New Age couples led by an African guru, who may or may not be swingers...
The deadpan character comedy is an ever-present here, but it frequently edges into the surreal, and the material grows more ambitious into the third act, with Bujalski experimenting with both form and content as his themes of our relationship with technology and its relationship with us are explored in some challenging ways. Odd tangents sprout when you least expect them, there is one abrupt change of film stock, and some of the lengthy conversations between characters might seem a tad overlong.
The film looks unique - shot on period-specific Sony video cameras in the greyest black and white imaginable, it has an instant period atmosphere and texture, and the performances by a cast of mostly unknowns are nicely naturalistic and full of authentic-seeming nerd mannerisms.
It is an odd, original, consistently fascinating work, and a huge stride forward for Bujalski.