Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (2009): Damien Chazelle’s Debut

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April 2009 

Damien Chazelle, age 24, premieres his first film, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, out of competition.

I finally caught up with Damien Chazelle’s feature debut, the original musical dramedy, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, which was unfairly labeled as mumblecore musical by some critics.

Set in contemporary Boston, Guy and Madeline concerns a dating couple. He’s an up-and-coming Boston jazz trumpeter, while she is looking for work.

Though only dating for several months, the initial passion is fading and Guy becomes intrigued by Elena, a femme he meets on a subway.

Meanwhile, Madeline is trying to move, changing apartments, searching for new gigs, playing new instruments. But things really change when she goes to New York, where she meets and fall for a Frenchman named Paul.

Guy, still in love with Madeline, is disenchanted with Elena, who shows no interest in his music. Looking for Madeline, he finally runs into her on the streets, but is it too late to rekindle their romance.

Influenced by European cinema–specifically Godard and Jacques Demy—and American verite cinema–Guy and Madeline is amateurish in both the positive and negative senses of the term.

Shot on black and white 16mm stock, the film features a cast of non-professional actors, though Jason Palmer, who plays Guy, is an accomplished jazz trumpeter.

Initially planned as director Chazelle’s thesis film at Harvard, the film features original music, composed by Justin Hurwitz with lyrics by Chazelle. The orchestral score was performed by the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra, while the jazz numbers by cast members.

World premiering at the 2009 Tribeca Film Fest, Guy and Madeline traveled the global festival road, and was later named one of the year’s best undistributed films.

Variance Films released the musical in select cities a year later, and the film became available on DVD in 2011.

With only three films, Chazelle, who is only 31, is a major talent to watch.