Naama Kates, Jason Burkey, Wynn Reichert, David Vaughn, John Greer, Wendy Keeling, Leslie Li Voorheis, Justin Curtis, Nathan Rogers, Michael Miller, Shearon Miller
Princeton Holt & Naama Kates w/Additional Material by Jason Burkey, Justin Logan Curtis, John Greer, Wendy Keeling, Michael Miller, Wynn Reichert, Nathan Rogers, David Vaughn and Leslie Li Voorheis
"The 10 Commandments of Chloe" Demands Your Attention
I have a confession.
Five minutes into Princeton Holt's The 10 Commandments of Chloe, I didn't really want to watch the film anymore.
I was already tired of Chloe (Naama Kates), an apparent mumblecore maven with attachment issues and a burning desire to be famous or a musician or a famous musician.
I was even more tired of Brandon (Jason Burkey), a young man with what feels like paint-by-number relationship fantasies that are as cloying as they are sincere.
Now then, before you start thinking that I'm being overly harsh towards the first five minutes of The 10 Commandments of Chloe, you should realize that I'm perfectly fine with feeling uncomfortable, awkward, irritated or just plain pissed off when it comes to watching a film if it means by film's end I will have immersed myself in the film's universe.
When you sat down and watched The Coen Brothers' brilliant No Country for Old Men, you'd have been downright demented to have really liked Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh.
You didn't have to like Chigurh, but you simply couldn't stop watching him.
Chloe is certainly nothing like Chigurh, at least not in a physical sense, but she's as quietly compelling a young woman whom you simply can't fully love because she won't allow it. She can't allow it, because it doesn't matter. Sometimes, the most brilliant performances are the performances you don't like.
The 10 Commandments of Chloe is about one woman's pursuit of the American Dream, a dream that seemingly comes at the expense of everything else in her life. Chloe, played with a serene and natural authenticity by Naama Kates, is a twentysomething struggling singer-songwriter who has plopped herself down inside the country music Mecca of Nashville determined to make a name for herself.
Nothing else matters.
And what if it did, as John Mellencamp might say.
There are things in Chloe's life that could matter, most notably a relationship with almost boyfriend and fellow struggling musician Brandon (Jason Burkey). Chloe tries to go through the motions of the relationship world in which Brandon wants the two of them to live, but Chloe is a young woman for whom faking it simply isn't in her vocabulary and the simple truth is that she's willing to compromise everyone and everything for a shot at what she wants.
We begin learning her commandments early in the film, starting with "assimilation" and including such concepts as "Focus" and "Persist" among others. Of course, she's not communicating these things to Brandon or to anyone else because she's incapable of doing so. These "commandments" are for you and I, the audience, and they help to establish a foundation of deep thought and purpose underneath what could otherwise easily be dismissed for its almost improvisational spirit.
While it may sound like Chloe is just another in a long line of "American Idol" styled wannabes determined to make it in the music industry, neither Naama Kates nor Princeton Holt are so lazy as to pitch their audience such a one-note portrayal. The 10 Commandments of Chloe is not merely a "how to" make it in the music biz film nor is it the simple little love story that you might think it's going to be. These commandments, for Chloe, are even far more than a guide she uses for chasing her dreams. These commandments are precisely how Chloe has constructed her life around its singular vision of life as a singer-songwriter. These commandments allow Chloe to live in the present, an expectation for herself that she lays out on more than one occasion as she shuns any idea of waxing eloquently or sentimentally about past memories, ideas, thoughts or even simply experiences in favor of constantly living in the moment and being ready for the opportunity that she has no doubt will arrive.
Yet Kates is also wise in playing Chloe with just a hint of emotional openness, an awareness of the world around her and a willingness to assimilate herself into it. Kates' Chloe, perhaps most maddeningly of all, isn't necessarily avoidant of human connection as she is absolutely insistent that such a connection fit safely inside her rigid construct of life. She displays just enough openness to make Brandon's fondness for her believable, yet she's also open enough that we don't become repulsed by her seemingly rigidly defined life.
Is she assimilating or is she surrendering?
That, for me, was the question I kept asking myself long after the closing credits had rolled.
As Brandon, Jason Burkey has the more sympathetic character as a good guy who simply may not be good in the way that Chloe needs him to be. It could very well be that he "won't" change while Chloe simply "can't" change. Is there a way for the relationship to survive in such circumstances? Recently seen in the popular faith-based film October Baby, Burkey shines here as a young man whom most would probably see as emotionally healthier yet, perhaps, less likely to actually succeed.
It's funny, but as I was processing The 10 Commandments of Chloe after watching the film I chuckled as I realized that I wasn't surprised that Chloe would eventually find her bliss and her opportunity to shine while Brandon would be ever searching outside himself for answers that he will likely never find. In the end, you may be asking yourself "Who is Chloe?" but her single-minded focus opens the door to that revelation while, on the other hand, Brandon's identity may very well be more on display yet less revealing because its mired in societal expectations and stereotypical rules about life, love, relationship and dreams.
While The 10 Commandments of Chloe very much centers around Chloe and Brandon, director Princeton Holt has assembled a fine cast that was put together rather quickly for his four day Nashville, Tennessee shoot. Wynn Reichert, David Vaughn, John Greer and, quite honestly, the entire ensemble cast as there's not a weak link here.
D.P. Christopher Odom opens the film with almost stunningly beautiful lensing that sets the tone for a film that dances a fine balance between real life and the shadows in which we live. The film's authenticity is enhanced,as well, by Naama Kates' stellar original music. If you get a chance, The Independent Critic highly recommends you check out her CD release from last year called "The Unexamined Life."
The 10 Commandments of Chloe is already proving to be quite popular on the indie film fest circuit including pickin up awards at the Los Angeles Movie Awards, Indiefest and Amsterdam Film Festival. There's no doubt that more will be right around the corner.
While prospects for theatrical release are likely to be limited given the film's modest 72-minute running time and its more experimental presentation, The 10 Commandments of Chloe is precisely the kind of indie gem that film fest audiences love to discover. With an insightful and well tuned performance by Naama Kates and a Kates/Holt penned script that exudes honesty and intelligence, The 10 Commandments of Chloe is yet another winner from New York-based One Way or Another Productions.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic