The most commented upon feature of Daniel Patrick Carbone’s directorial debut, Hide Your Smiling Faces, is its hushed volume. It has long stretches of silence, and when its characters talk they do so in declarative snippets and metaphysical questions that trail off without answers.
The story of two brothers and the town they live in responding to a local tragedy has been compared by critics to Stand By Me and Tree of Life, but the film it most reminded me of was Ordinary People. Perhaps that will sound too on the nose for some. Both films deal with young people working through the trauma of confronting death for the first time and both are more interested in the effects of death than its causes.
Of course Robert Redford’s adaptation of Judith Guest’s novel has the survivor relating to a professional counselor to propel both the plot and the acceptance of death forward. Hide Your Smiling Faces has emotion and mood to burn. Its plot feels stretched, even at eighty minutes. That will be just fine for some and a deal breaker for others. I’ve been to enough film festivals and sat through enough non-plot driven narratives that I was able to stay with Faces, although I certainly found it a slog in places.
If critics have been divided about what other films this one invokes, they have been consistent in saying they would like to see more from Carbone. I can get behind that sentiment, although I preferred Carbone’s direction to his writing. The choices to eschew almost all soundtrack noise and to frame and to keep the kids at a distance avoid both the sentimentality and emotional manipulation that pervades so many modern, commercial films. But it didn’t quite offer me enough in the way of insight or understanding to justify the amount of constant concentration it required. It was a little too opaque.
Still, I would interested to look at what Carbone does with someone else’s material.
Hide Your Smiling Faces will play on April 5, 6, and 7 at the RiverRun Film Festival in Winston-Salem