It’s hard to tell how “Roaring 20’s” will land outside the moment it’s released in, emerging from a pandemic it was made during, but it feels oh so right in this instance. While director Elisabeth Vogler limits any overt reference to COVID to a pair of characters putting on masks before they enter a subway station, it is quite clearly intended as an act of spiritual rejuvenation for those who have been bereft of human interaction for over a year, conjuring a dream from reality as both a historic snapshot of France during 2020 by venturing out onto the streets with a camera to record this unique time and a fantasy for those who have had cabin fever from staying indoors. It isn’t a feeling of dread that Vogler captures, but rather one of restlessness when even if COVID isn’t mentioned, a reevaluation of what’s important has taken hold when everything seems as if it’s come to a standstill.
With the world no longer a threat to pass one by, Vogler considers the opposite, taking full advantage of slightly less crowded streets in Paris to dip in and out of conversations with random people, almost all under 35 as they start putting themselves out there to take charge of their destiny. Structurally, “Slacker” comes to mind when there’s little in common between the characters other than reflecting a diversity of experience in the same place, but another Linklater film, “Waking Life,” is a more apt comparison with its liberating use of rotoscope animation freed ideas from the practicalities of what can be caught on camera, a magic that’s replaced here with the transporting effect of a single ongoing tracking shot, following characters through narrow streets without breaking stride.
“I suggest you pay attention to your surroundings,” Leon tells Julia, the first pair of strangers we meet at the outset of “Roaring 20’s,” advice you wonder mere moments before whether he’ll heed himself as it has earphones plugged in and seemingly oblivious to the glorious centuries-old architecture around him as he drones on about a show he’s seen on Netflix. But he turns out to be more helpful as a guide to audiences than to the woman he’s been hired to take to see her brother, with Julia already on edge as Vogler might expect of her audience and the filmmaker extends an invitation to both to let any anxiety dissipate as you lose yourself in the mini dramas of others, with the kind of surreptitious eavesdropping that’s likely been missing from your life lately as people reconsider careers or relationships and the eye is allowed to wander to people dining al fresco or dangling their legs over the edge of the River Seine.
Inevitably, some exchanges are more memorable than others —Vogler is wise to have the film find its center with a runaway bride who commiserates with a baby she finds seemingly abandoned in its stroller, a coupling with enough inherent context and dramatic tension to deliver on its own, but somewhere between the relatively mundane naturalistic repartee and the camera team’s technical savvy, there really does seem to be wonder around every corner when each step is an opportunity to see beyond one’s own experience to feel as if you’re a part of someone else’s.
“Roaring 20s” will screen virtually through the Tribeca Film Festival starting on June 13th at 6 pm EST through June 23rd.