The best festivals point to the future, capture the zeitgeist, or honor the past. At Locarno in 2015, you could have had all three: Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Happy Hour (his first time premiering in a major competition), Chantal Akerman’s No Home Movie (the director in attendance just months before she died), and Hong Sangsoo’s Right Now, Wrong Then (a mid-career masterpiece), all played. So did Rick Alverson’s Entertainment, the final film of Andrzej Żuławski, and the directorial debut of Josh Mond, at the time best known for producing Martha Marcy May Marlene for Borderline, a company he established with Sean Durkin and Antonio Campos in 2003. Mond’s debut James White featured Cristopher Abbott’s first lead role and (one year before dazzling in A Quiet Passion for Terrence Davies) a Cynthia Nixon performance that made you sit up and take note. It won a prize in Locarno and another at Sundance. The following year, Mond, Nixon, and Abbott were all nominated at the Independent Spirit Awards. Then Mond more or less seemed to vanish.

An astonishing nine years later, the director returns with It Doesn’t Matter, a film about a down-and-out journey along America’s West Coast backroads that edges towards some kind of redemption. Featuring footage shot by many of its participants on shake phones and confessional Zooms, this work belongs as much to the collective as it does to the director himself (eight names are listed as cinematographers) and not least to lead actor Jay Will. Moving bewilderingly between the frameworks of documentary and fiction in a way that keeps you guessing about the validity and consequences of what’s onscreen, the film works well as a raw travelogue of late nights, late capitalism, and anxious comedowns. Will plays Alvaro, a man ever on the verge of ecstasy, explosion, rebirth, or collapse. It’s about as nerve-wracking as it sounds.

It can get a bit raw, but Mond’s film does well to give the nervy feeling of Alvaro’s day-to-day precariousness. The director developed the screenplay with Oscar Bodden Gonzalez, an old friend whose stories of life on the road became the guts of the character’s misadventures. The scattered, shaky aesthetic of many sequences is anchored by a series of conversations between Alvaro and a filmmaker in New York (played by Abbott, presumably standing in for Mond) who listens to his tales of narcotics, odd jobs, and odder acquaintances. (Abbott joins him late on, in a relatively bucolic sequence that still manages to end in a fight.)

Mond has stated It Doesn’t Matter is scripted, yet much of this footage plays with the tantalizing veneer of reality; when Abbott appears, adding a dash of fiction and celebrity, the contrast can be jarring. Not everything works: the humor can veer a bit macho and some sequences go a bit too hard, but Mond sticks the landing by giving Alvaro an inner monologue with many of the best lines: “Anyone who starves long enough becomes a chef,” he intones at the beginning, “it’s about working with what you got.” Near the close, there’s even a bit of Denzel: “When you fall throughout life, remember… fall forward,” we hear the actor bellow out from a commencement speech in 2011, which Alvaro repeats like a mantra. Aesthetically, the film has a surprising amount to offer: some entrancing images (the giant, humming machines of an industrial laundromat stand out), some lurid animations from Anthony F. Schepperd, and a wavy score from Clams Casino. It’s a vibe.

It Doesn’t Matter premiered at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival.

Grade: B-

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