Nathan Silver is predominantly preoccupied with chaos. In the middle of shooting his third feature, Soft in the Head, he decided to steer the improvised film's narrative arc in a new direction, retreating to the roof of the apartment building where he was shooting to scrawl out story beats on a napkin alongside his producer and Cody Stokes, his director of photography and frequent collaborator. The film, which opens this weekend at Cinema Village in New York, is inspired by Dostoyevsky's The Idiot and features an eclectic cast of trained actors working alongside non-professionals.
To most, this grab-bag scenario would sound daunting, but Silver revels in it. He explains that the actors and non-actors push each other, as the non-actors have a self-consciously fastidious attention to detail, and the actors are all worried that they haven't been given enough context (Silver doesn't show them his story treatments) and don't know where their characters are going. "They might completely disagree with [my method], which is funny," he admits. Whatever his approach to handling the madness, it's certainly successful. Our own Ela Bittencourt has praised this brashly funny entertainment for "Silver's psychological depth, where realism nearly implodes the more immediate exigencies of plot."
Among the newcomers in the cast is Sheila Etxeberría, who stars as Natalia, a reckless New Yorker and perennial outsider who's continually banished from the lives of those close to her until she ends up in a makeshift homeless shelter run by a naïve, daffy, and confrontationally friendly man named Maury (Ed Kane), who shepherds his ungodly flock as if they were his children.
The premise of an ostracized woman finding refuge in an unlikely new family will sound familiar to anyone who saw Silver's Exit Elena, about a live-in nurse whose charge is hospitalized, leaving her stranded and ineffectual in the home of a tumultuous suburban family. The setup also extends to his two upcoming films, the recently completed Uncertain Terms, about a home for pregnant teenagers, and Stinking Heaven, about a commune of recovering drug addicts in the early '90s. The latter features more familiar names than Soft in the Head, including Somebody Up There Likes Me's Keith Poulson and I Used to Be Darker's Deragh Campbell and Hannah Gross, but promises the same amount of madcap anarchy as his previous work.