This afternoon and this evening, Film Forum screens Local Hero (double-featured with Gregory’s Girl) as part of a mini-tribute to the Scottish filmmaker Bill Forsyth).
When is a movie more than a movie, but closer to being a lifestyle drug, a dream of utopia? Bill Forsyth’s 1983 masterpiece seemed at the time to herald some kind of New Scottish Cinema, or at least a new new singular voice, but both ideas faded (Forsyth’s career bumped and ground but did not fly), and all we’re left with is this impossibly beguiling, absolutely peculiar film, a comedy without jokes but full of mysteries, hidden motivations, non sequiturs, mutations, portents and broken hearts. Burt Lancaster’s starlost oil magnate is only the MacGuffin; it’s Peter Riegert’s yuppie Yankee broker we follow, through a Scotch shore village so defiantly odd and distinctive yet completely real that it seems to exist outside of the film, when we’re not looking, and for sure the east coast town Forsyth used had to put up their own Local Hero phone booth to appease the many tourists that came, trying like Riegert’s MacIntyre to fathom their own inexplicable love. The thick vein of quixotic humor that oozes here can take any shape, any unexplainable running gag, any unpredictable quirk of personality (the doomed bunny, the ubiquitous motorcyclist, the African priest, the Russian submariner, the mermaid oceanologist), but it all gently coheres and has the breezy juice of an off-the-grid vacation day in paradise. It kinda died in its initial release—who’s surprised?—but since it’s become a cult movie in the best sense of the word: it’s a film people live in rather than simply see.