Partially funded by Kickstarter, Daniel Patrick Carbone’s Hide Your Smiling Faces (2013) arrives in selected UK cinemas this week having picked up a number of accolades from various film festivals across the pond. It’s easy to see why. While it may meander a little on occasion, the film is full of small yet hugely revealing observations regarding the trials of adolescence. It comes off like a solemn version of The Kings of Summer (2013), where instead of those hazy months between school being packed with endless possibilities, they appear to signal an end of sorts. The film follows two teenage siblings struggling with the aftermath of the apparent accidental death of a local boy, a friend of the youngest.
The eldest of the duo, Eric (newcomer Nathan Varnson) is unhappy, belligerent and nihilistic, while his younger brother Tommy (fellow débutante Ryan Jones) is sensitive and meek by comparison. Death and loss loom large over the pair as they both must come to terms with the tragic incident. They uncover a bundle of mysterious animal carcasses by the creek where they are forever wrestling and swimming, and the procurement of a stolen item from a neighbour puts the pair in potential peril. Unsurprisingly, Hide Your Smiling Faces is light on narrative and heavy on mood. Director Carbone (who makes his feature debut here, as well as supplying the sparse screenplay) is happy to let his camera leisurely trail his two central protagonists as they try to make sense of the strange world around them.
The influence of American neorealist figures such as Ramin Bahrani, Kelly Reinhardt and early David Gordon Green is evident, yet the film never feels like a rehash of those works. This is helped immeasurably by the main actors, who manage to display a level of authenticity and convincing human behaviour rare even for films of this type. The oppressive and morbid air which Carbone manages to conjure up can be a little stifling at times, however, and the lack of clarity around a couple of points in the narrative proves frustrating. These issue aside, this is a fine first effort on the whole, and the director’s confidence in digging for a truth amongst potentially tricky cinematic material to pull off, marks him out as a future name to watch. It’s safe to say that Hide Your Smiling Faces won’t be troubling the box office charts this weekend, but this engrossing little film is perfect for those searching for a little respite from the summer Hollywood juggernauts.