Fantasia Fest 2023 Review: An Itch Can’t Be Scratched in Mary Dauterman’s Still Satisfying “Booger”

There’s a moment in “Booger” that will make your hair stand on end, as it does for Anna (Grace Glowicki) when she’s overcome by tinnitus ringing in her ears and bound to go mad after she thinks a bug has taken up residence there in the midst of a sleepless night. The irritation may be all in her head, but there is no part of her body it doesn’t reach, reflected with quick splices across her person that make it feel like the fabric of the film has become one and the same with her skin in Mary Dauterman’s sensational debut feature, with each quick cut to Anna’s flesh feeling as if it’s ripping open something inside. It’s a special kind of delirium that the writer/director achieves in sidling up to Anna, who is restless due to the disappearance of a cat she shared with her roommate and best friend Izzy (Sofia Dobrushin), but her desperation to find it reveals how much she misses Izzy, who recently passed away of undisclosed reasons.

In one of the film’s most subtly clever touches, you don’t know exactly how long a carton of chow mein that Izzy has marked off-limits for Anna has been sitting in the fridge when Anna chooses to start eating it at the beginning of “Booger,” exactly the ambiguous danger zone in which all sense of time has been lost in the immediate aftermath of a loved one’s demise where every action seems to land somewhere between a bad idea to truly questionable. Anna is judicious in how much of the wilting noodles she eats, less so out of concern for her health than the fact that the less she takes the longer it’ll keep Izzy in her thoughts, not that she isn’t there all the time already. However, Dauterman approaches grief in a uniquely compelling way, understanding the totality of how it changes behavior beyond an internally incomprehensible sense of loss as Anna puts on a brave face for her boyfriend Max (Garrick Bernard) and Izzy’s mother Joyce (the always welcome Marcia DeBonis), with whom she wants to remain close, but is unaware in doing so that she could push them away a bit by keeping her feelings private and coming across as a bit above it all.

Glowicki, an especially gifted physical actor who presented herself as nearly feral in her own directorial debut “Tito,” has a wiry energy about her that Dauterman employs to great effect when the internal inevitably starts bleeding into the external. Anna’s fruitless search for Booger has her resembling the cat she’s chasing more and more each day, and although there’s limits to what Glowicki can express when Anna won’t let herself open up, an appropriately twitchy turn gives way to explosions of color in any environment she’s in, amplifying the mood throughout, and iPhone videos from her life with Izzy that coalesce as a fantasia that pulls her in and threatens to drown her if she spends too much time there.

As much as the bold formal immersion into Anna’s inner experience proves dazzling, it neither overwhelms the ordinary day-to-day routine she finds herself increasingly at odds with, or makes it any less impressive how Dauterman establishes it as a counterpoint where she has fallen out of sync with the rhythms of life when even those closest to her are processing their loss at a different rate than she is and more generally the world moves on. Yet time stands still in “Booger,” at least for those watching on when it is so arresting, feeling less like someone is gone than someone has arrived.

“Booger” does not yet have U.S. distribution.

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