Circulation is a moody, hard to classify film that is often confusing, most of the time intentionally. The point is sometimes hard to figure out, but the ride along the way is intriguing enough, if not what would be described as fun.
Circulation is set in Mexico, and the dry landscape and dusty scrub brush set a tone of emptiness and almost unreality from the outset. The film involves the intersection of the lives (sort of) of Ana (Yvonne Delarosa) and Gene (Sherman Koltz). Ana is taking a day trip to visit her boyfriend at the Hotel Azul. Unbeknownst to her, her ex-husband has sabotaged her car, and it overheats in the middle of nowhere. He and his friends follow her and, when the car breaks down, beat her and throw her in to the back of a pickup truck. To what end, the viewer does not know, but it is clearly nefarious. Not being a shy and reserved type, Ana fights back ferociously, causing the truck to crash.
Some time later, Ana wakes up, with a broken arm and lots of bruises, and finding the others in the truck dead or unconscious, stumbles back to her car. At this point, Gene pulls up in his camper and offers Ana a ride. A couple of things complicate this. First, Gene speaks no Spanish and Ana speaks no English, which makes communication between the two difficult. Second, in the opening scene, in the narration, Gene states quite clearly that he died in 1989. The viewer is left to determine whether he is speaking metaphorically or is actually a dead man who drives around in a camper, drinks beer, sleeps and feels the need to occasionally relieve himself by the side of the road.
The story becomes even more bizarre from this point on. When Ana and Gene arrive at the Hotel Azul (Ana has refused to be taken to the hospital) they find that it is a half completed ruin, abandoned for years. Ana's boyfriend is nowhere to be found. Later, at Ana's home, her dead brother sits watching nature documentaries, while another man vomits on a corpse on the floor. (This last is a common activity in the world of Circulation, happening four or five times.) Gene casually shoots the vomiting man, wraps him in rope and drags him back to the camper. And so forth.
It is pointless to describe the plot further because the plot is not the point. Circulation is all about the mood and the look. The performances are subtle, but strong. Delarosa and Koltz as the leads are both excellent. They are often as mysterious to the viewer as they are to each other. Their inability to communicate is the metaphor for the whole film, which never tips its hand or reveals what it is all about. The empty desert, the strange people (even the ones not vomiting on corpses), the circular nature of events and the relentless ex-husband who tracks Ana by her smell all contribute to the dreamlike, or rather nightmare like, atmosphere. It is an atmosphere that director Ryan Harper maintains almost flawlessly.
One drawback to this focus on atmosphere and mood is that it crowds out more satisfying film conventions such as character development and storylines that can be followed and understood. Not a lot really happens in the film. There is a surplus of driving around in trucks, and walking through the desert and the occasional stop in a dress shop, but things progress at a lazy pace. There is sort of rising action, and a kind of climax (involving an actual explosion), but in this world nothing much ever changes. This is intentional, but it leaves the viewer a bit nonplussed at the end. This opacity of theme or meaning makes Circulation a very interesting film, but not one that could be described as fun to watch. Still, it is definitely worth a viewing, and succeeds quite well at its intended aims.
The video is presented in 1.66:1 widescreen, and varies in quality. At times the image is sharp, with bright colors and clear contrasts. At other times, the image appears pale and washed out. For the most part, it looks good for a low budget production.
The sound is available in both Dolby digital 2 channel and 5.1 channel. The 5.1 channel sound is generally good, but not outstanding. Two or three times the dialogue is muffled or hard to hear, but mostly clear. There is little separation in the sound, mostly just spread all around the channels. When the sound of a footstep or cracking twig does come distinctly from one side or the other, it is more startling than effective, because it is so seldom done. The LFE channel is effectively used, particularly with the ongoing theme of Ana's thrumming heartbeat. There are no alternate language tracks available. English subtitles are provided for the considerable Spanish dialogue in the film, but these cannot be turned off and no other subtitles are available.
There are a number of extras available on the disc, but nothing terribly substantial. They are:
Expecting a video interview with director Ryan Harper, this reviewer was disappointed to discover that this was only a text interview. It did provide some interesting insights, particularly on how the film was originally conceived, but would have been better live.
This is almost five minutes of behind the scenes photographs, played on a slideshow. Some interesting material, but insubstantial.
This runs about two minutes, and consists of the storyboards of several scenes, with stage direction and dialogue heard in voiceover.
This is the video of Sherman Koltz's audition, performing several scenes from the film.
At 1:11 in runtime, this is very similar to the Slide Show extra feature, just shorter and with a funky red border around the pictures. These pictures are often repeats of what we saw in the Slide Show, but tend to be more of the production stills type than behind the scenes.
Overall, the extra features are slight and add little to the viewing experience. This kind of dense and opaque film could have benefited significantly from some in depth extra material, but unfortunately it is not present here.
Circulation is an interesting film, with solid performances across the board and an eerie mood of isolation and bizarre, dreamlike anti-logic. Plot and characterization are somewhat ignored in service of the mood, however, and the audience never seems to be able to reach a place of empathy with either of the main characters, at least above a superficial level. Because of this, Circulation lacks emotional impact. It has a lighter touch, which intrigues the viewer but never pulls us fully into the film's world. This one is definitely recommended for a rental viewing, and purchase only for those particularly captivated.