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CANNES 2024 Directors’ Fortnight

Review: Eephus


- CANNES 2024: Carson Lund’s debut feature takes us out to the ball game, with far more melancholic results than expected

Review: Eephus
Keith William Richards in Eephus

Eephus by debuting filmmaker Carson Lund takes a benign, everyday US pastime – an amateur-league baseball game – and enshrines it with uncanny significance. An unusual French-US co-production – with its utterly local New England setting and cast, and baseball’s national popularity having no international correlate – Lund depicts the game in an originally offbeat, minimalist manner that would occur to few of his peers in indie film. Well, apart from those who would identify as both baseball enthusiasts and cinephiles, but definitely not “jocks”, concerned with how to make their sport appear sublime. Lund’s film premiered to acclaim in the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, and is the second from his production collective Omnes Films to appear in the selection after Christmas Eve in Miller’s Point.

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Named after a deft, slow technique of pitching, it’s unquestionably a fiction film, although one heavily inspired by observational documentary (with maven of the form Frederick Wiseman lending his voice to an audio-only cameo as a local radio announcer). Focus is lent from the action solely taking place in the baseball diamond, as well as the surrounding perimeter’s team shelters, bleachers and a small pathway where a pizza truck cheerfully pulls up to the field at midday. For the match-up, Adler’s Paint faces off against the Riverdogs, in the final amateur-league contest at Soldiers Field, before a new school will be built on top of it. With the movie beginning as the sun rises and concluding at dusk, Lund and his co-writers Michael Basta and Nate Fisher intricately track the sprightly events on the field, the humorous and deceptively weighty words sometimes exchanged, and other vignettes of bystanders strolling nearby, who surprisingly become compelled by the game and stop to watch.

With the teams primarily composed of out-of-shape, middle-aged guys, the charisma and personas of a handful of them catch one’s attention – namely, Paint’s pitcher Ed (Keith William Richards, the scary loan shark from Uncut Gems, whose non-professional turn in that has led to other roles) and Franny (Cliff Blake), the scorer and later the umpire, who has the droopy-faced dignity of Harry Dean Stanton. Yet the teams’ collective identity is what really fascinates Lund: they’re an exclusively male group enjoying a low-stakes activity for possibly the last time, with the tenor of the day becoming more emotionally charged than they realise. “Boys don’t cry,” goes the chorus of The Cure’s famous early song, but watching the procession of this last stand, we’re reminded why professional athletes often weep a little at the close of a particularly dramatic or crucial game, with the broadcast cameras mercilessly capturing every wet eye and tear trickle.

With the civically positive outcome of a school taking the venue’s place, Eephus can’t be reduced to a lament against gentrification or the commercialisation of public spaces, nor does its vague setting in the 1990s give its self-consciousness about white American masculinity an association with the Trump era. That time passes, formerly pristine baseball bats start splintering, and traditions can sometimes fail to find modern counterparts are this film’s few main ideas, and we start to tire of these points before the end, longing for more variation and deepening. But these themes are aptly matched by the images; US cinema and its overall visual culture need shots of a deserted baseball diamond under a dimming streetlamp as the last player’s stuttering old car drives away, as much as it does a millionaire professional punching the air in slo-mo.

Eephus was staged by Omnes Films and Nord-Ouest Films. Its world sales are handled by Film Constellation.

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