Lefty/Righty stars Lewis Pullman (Bad Times at the El Royale, Catch 22, Top Gun: Maverick) as a young divorced cowboy coming to terms with his father’s soon and inevitable passing, and with his role as a father himself. Writer/director Max Walker-Silverman manages to grapple with some of life’s biggest topics, from loss and forgiveness to family and grief, with an assured light-handedness of style, if not substance. Like its characters, the film doesn’t need to say much to communicate everything there is to say.
With its sense of wry melancholy, laconic atmosphere, and taciturn protagonists, Lefty/Righty evokes the mood of works from auteurs such as Aki Kaurismäki or Jim Jarmusch. However it is the dead-pan style of the Coen brothers that is probably the film’s most obvious influence, apart from classic Hollywood westerns and the filmmaker’s own experiences. The film’s stylistic and narrative reference points speak to the anachronism of being a cowboy in today’s modern times and its traditional portrayal in pop culture, as well as the director’s personal inspirations shaped by his upbringing and subsequent reprocessing.
“Having grown up in rural Colorado, but then living in New York, Lefty/Righty was a return home of sorts; a glance westward towards the people who raised and shaped me, but then inhabited my life largely as memories”, director Max Walker-Silverman explains. “The film was an attempt to make sense of the strange and powerful nostalgia the rural west holds; the way it plants these romantics hooks in your mind, the way it doesn’t let go, the speed at which life there turns to memories and memories turn to illusions.“
Transporting the cliched image of the strong, silent cowboy type into the 21st century, filmmaker Walker-Silverman’s portrayal of the emotionally stunted male archetype might have been in danger of bordering on caricature, if it weren’t for the film’s apparent affection for its characters and their deep-seated vulnerability which is palpable in every frame.
The film’s sensibilities are further reflected in the deliberately subdued performances: One only needs to watch lead actor Lewis Pullman’s countenance in the first scene, when he picks up his daughter from his ex-wife and her partner, to see the wide range of emotions across his face changing within seconds, conveyed with the wince of an eyebrow.
Produced by Jesse Hope—whose involvement in the short makes even more sense when you look at his IMDb credits, and S/W alum Grant Hyun (Koreatown), Lefty/Righty particularly mesmerizes through its magnificent imagery, which was awarded the KODAK Vision Award and CAMERIMAGE’s Student Award for its cinematography. The romanticism associated with analog film, especially in an age of digital media, becomes a central element of the film in evoking a sense of timelessness.
“My cinematographer Alfonso Herrera Salcedo and I were drawn to the apparent contradiction of 16mm film, with its blue-collar roughness; and Anamorphic glass, with its legacy of Hollywood grandeur“, director Max Walker-Silverman says about the specific look of his short. “That opposition seemed appropriate for a story at once earthy and modest, yet heightened and somewhat surreal.“
Like film stock itself, it’s a feeling of something simultaneously antiquated and very much alive. It is this alternation that’s at the core of our concepts of family and home: memories of where we came from forever intertwining with our constant experience of the now. A sense of place that maybe never was. A group of people that makes us feel like we belong and feel understood — with or without words. That’s all nostalgia really is: A lingering, elusive feeling of homesickness and yearning for an imaginary past. The film is as much about the unspoken things we wish we could have said as the things we aren’t able to put into words. With its unagitated pacing and tone, Lefty/Righty makes us look for significance in the mundane details of life, its reflection on the passing of time serving as a reminder of how the things we lost can help us appreciate the things we still have even more.