The pickup artist

It's arty and low-budget, but don't be fooled--Hands on a Hard Body swims in the mainstream

You lose it too. Any pretense of elitism or social differences or feeling that you're at least smart enough not to do something so preposterous falls away as you bond with the contestants. Unconsciously, you pick your favorites, side with them against the others, and suffer a tug of disappointment when they can no longer continue. Although the movie clocks in at just over 90 minutes, it feels longer, though not in a bad way. The contestants are worn out, and fittingly, you're a bit tired as well.

But also fitting for a movie made by a guy who in conversation references the master Soviet filmmakers Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov, the great documentarian Errol Morris (Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control; The Thin Blue Line), story arcs, the power of catharsis, as well as classic literature and music theory with artless aplomb, Hard Body carries subtle insight and natural poetics. The movie ruminates on all sorts of things: man vs. man and man vs. himself; the ultimate unknowable nature of faith; the power of minutiae over our lives; what won't Texans do for a pickup truck.

But Bindler never pounds you over the head. And, refreshingly, at no point does Hard Body seem terribly perfected.

In fact, the filmmakers miss critical moments of the contest--for instance, the ending. But the film is better for it. Panic swells as the crew hears that something big has happened, races to the scene, and tries to piece together the truth.

Ultimately, the movie feels like a fevered dream, part mythology, part reality.

"That's the trip," Bindler says with amazement, even after living with this film for three years. "And why I can still watch it every time it shows. It's real life."

And when dealing with a documentary, the best advice for the audience is to follow Benny Perkins' lead. "I'm gonna just wait out the night and see what transgresses."

Hands on a Hard Body.
Directed by S.R. Bindler. Opens Friday.

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