Cold Weather, the latest micro-budget movie from writer-director-editor Aaron Katz, is like an exquisite minimalist painting. Its beauty will move you, it simplicity fool you, for. there are layers and complexities, like the many mysteries the film slowly exposes.The opening image sets the mood as it lingers on a rain-soaked window, its lovely gray blur accompanied by a surprisingly sunny tune from composer Keegan DeWitt’s richly textured original score. That image soon gives way to an overhead shot of a carefully manicured apartment courtyard, empty, until a guy carrying a cardboard box enters. It is a good starting point for this tale of places and spaces. Set in the filmmaker’s hometown of Portland, Ore., and something of a cautious love letter to a city that has come to symbolize ground zero for hipsters who try to figure things out, Cold Weather stars Cris Lankenau and Trieste Kelly Dunn as Doug and Gail, siblings who grew up and apart. When we meet them, they’ve just begun to share an apartment as they try to navigate their new adult relationship. Katz drops random hints rather than long exposition, so in time we learn that Doug, who has only just moved back from Chicago, is a Sherlock Holmes aficionado who once studied forensic science and thought he would grow up to be a detective. He has a mind-and-body-numbing job in a local ice-packing factory instead. A chance encounter with his ex-girlfriend, Rachel (Robyn Rikoon), another Chicago refugee, and her subsequent disappearance pull Doug back into the mystery-unraveling mode. He even buys a pipe in hopes of finding inspiration, like Holmes, in the contemplative exercise of puffing out silky strands of smoke. The case of the missing ex is set in motion when Doug’s new compadre Carlos (Raul Castillo), who toils alongside him in the icehouse by day and works the Portland club scene as a DJ by night, gets worried when Rachel doesn’t show up as promised for one of his gigs. The rest of the film follows the amateur sleuths, with Doug’s sister soon joining the gang, in the spiraling fear and bumbling fun of the search. Lankenau and Dunn in particular deserve credit for the fact that the relationships on screen feel born of years together, an ease that Katz never hurries. Though at first glance Cold Weather might seem to be yet another mumblecore mood piece, that analogy doesn’t hold. There’s too much attention to structure and the refined look of the film through the gorgeous framing of many shots by cinematographer Andrew Reed, who collaborated with the director on the 2007 festival favorite Quiet City. Reed has shot the rain-drenched streets and warehouses of Portland to maximize their linear shapes in ways that evoke the board games the siblings sometimes play. As the real cat-and-mouse game unfolds, Doug finds himself in a series of carefully crafted tight spots, such as the storage warehouse into which he follows one suspect, with its maze of hallways and long line of closed doors. While the filmmaker lets time expand and scenes breathe, DeWitt’s score sets the pace with a backbeat that, as tension rises, often sounds like a pounding heart. Just about all the elements coalesce around Katz’s clear vision of how relationships ride out life’s storms.
Movie InfoCast: Cris Lankenau, Trieste Kelly Dunn, Raul Castillo, Robyn Rikoon.
Writer-director: Aaron Katz.
Producers: Lars Knudsen, Brendan McFadden, Ben Stambler.
An IFC Films release. Running time: 96 minutes. Adult themes. In Miami-Dade only: Cosford Cinema.