Director: Vincent Gallo

Well known as an actor in independent American movies (The Funeral, Palookaville), Vincent Gallo directs and stars in this fresh urban fairy tale about a grimy young sociopath on a mission to revenge his past. Released from prison, Billy (Gallo) travels to his home town of Buffalo to visit his bizarrely dysfunctional parents (Ben Gazarra and Anjelica Huston) and to settle accounts with the man he believes was responsible for landing him behind bars. The qualities of desperation and aburdity that surrong Billy’s plans are suggested by Gallo in a splendid opening sequence, as his character’s first problem is to find a place to take a leak. Before he even manages that task, Billy kidnaps a young tap-dancing student, Layla (Christina Ricci), who is to pose as his wife and pretend that she and Billy have spent the past five years operating as FBI agents.
The centrepiece of the film is the painfully funny encounter with the parents, who show much more interest in Layla than in Billy. The father’s lack of communication with his son conceals a profound hostility. The mother is an obsessive Buffalo Bills football fan who remains riveted to a tape of an old game throughout her son’s homecoming. Billy is of course named after the football team, whose bad fortune landed him in trouble when he bet on their winning a match with money he didn’t have. Gradually, one comes to understand Billy’s resentment and frustration, however misplaced his aggression and scheming may be.
Instead of outlining a social thesis, Gallo treats his material in the manner of John Cassavetes (the ‘godfather’ of American independent cinema) by developing his themes through the performances of his actors. As the disinterested parents, Cassavetes stalwart Gazzara and the excellent Anjelica Huston respond with spiky, unpredictable performances that ring true. But the revelation of the film is Christina Ricci as Layla, who wins over every character in the film – and, one expects, the audience – as between Layla’s assumed role and her physical appearance. With her bleached hair, heavy make-up and flimsy dress, Layla looks like a sluttish bimbo. Yet she’s the heart and soul of the film, and the perfect counterpoint to Billy’s macho revenge fantasies.
Gallo’s good work with his actors isn’t matched by a strong narrative sense, and some of the extreme situations he depicts are barely credible. Yet Buffalo ’66 is far from being the kind of indulgent vanity project that actors often turn in when given the directorial reins. There is a freshness and edginess to the way the film is put together – the jump-cuts in the editing, the grungy Polaroid look of the drab surroundings – that mark Gallo as a maverick talent to watch. The great John Cassavetes would surely have approved of this wayward, warts-and-all study of imperfect humanity.

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