What “Wild Tigers I Have Known” tries to do, it does very well. It sets out to be a languid, dreamy portrait of a middle-school boy beginning to deal with his burgeoning sexuality, which may be focused on members of the same rather than opposite sex. There isn’t a lot of dialogue, and much of what dialogue there is is meant to convey feelings rather than specific, vital information. The movie doesn’t tell a story so much as it tells a mood.
Which means, yes, that much of the film will feel like it’s not “going anywhere.” But if you allow yourself to be immersed in its often beautiful images and its reflective, ethereal atmosphere, it can be a memorable experience.
The boy is Logan (Malcolm Stumpf), a quiet, girlish outcast who’s frequently targeted by bullies for failing to be as masculine as they’d like him to be. Of course, he doesn’t do himself any favors wearing a sweater vest with hearts and a sheep embroidered on it, but still. Logan is harmless and introverted. He tells the school counselor he doesn’t mind being alone all the time — his flaky single mom (Fairuza Balk) isn’t much help — but then confides that he often daydreams of “being somewhere else, and not being alone.” Your heart goes out to the kid.
The object of his affection is Rodeo (Patrick White), a fellow middle-schooler who’s a year or two older and much more physically mature. Rodeo is also a class-skipper and a general troublemaker. He’s the exact opposite of Logan, which of course must be part of the appeal, that exotic, “unknown” quality.
The two become pals of a sort. Rodeo doesn’t seem to care enough what other people to think to have a problem hanging out with Logan (after school, off in the woods, of course — not on campus), and obviously Logan is delighted beyond measure. But what can a naive, inexperienced boy do to make the most of the situation, especially when he spends so much of his time off in dreamland?
A young filmmaker named Cam Archer has written, directed, edited, and produced the film, an expansion of a short film of his called “Bobbylove.” He got Gus Van Sant to executive produce it. Van Sant is a fitting mentor, in part because he’s gay, but more because “Wild Tigers” fits the contemplative, story-less mode of his recent films (“Last Days,” “Gerry,” “Elephant”).
Gorgeously photographed by Archer’s regular cinematographer Aaron Platt, “Wild Tigers” rests on its hypnotic images and sound design (lots of tinkling bells and roaring surf, even when no bells or beaches are in view), and on the heartrending performance by plucky young Malcolm Stumpf. It’s artistic without being pretentious (with maybe a few lapses here and there), and it suggests that Archer may be a talent to watch out for.
B (1 hr., 21 min.; )