Posted by: Ben Hopkins | 03/08/2009

Circledrawers

Director: Olaf de Fleur Johannesson
Year: 2009

A co-production between Olaf de Fleur Johannesson’s Poppoli Pictures and Stefan Schaefer’s New York production company Cicala Filmworks, web series Circledrawers combines Icelandic and American talent during a surreal nine episode debut run.

This tale of Circledrawers, a group of trainee angels working to return to their prior human state, is pitched somewhere between the mysterious oddball humour of John From Cincinnati and the philosophical, realist purgatory of The Bothersome Man.

The main focus of Circledrawers falls on two characters. Oleg (Hilmir Snær Guðnason) arrives in Iceland to work on a special report examining the workings of the Circledrawer system, while in New York young Lewis (Logan Huffman) is making the transition from the human world to the existence of the Circledrawers due to an unfortunate and long ignored clerical error.

A scene from episode one

A scene from episode one

And so we’re drawn to the lives of these downbeat, put upon angels. As a whole they’ve accepted their lot in this unusual half-life but they still strive to return to human form. But to get there they need to complete a challenging list of 1571 tasks. Their days are spent in bland, thankless endeavours; mysteriously cleaning empty houses, paying prostitutes for hugs.

The first series of Circledrawers proves to be strangely addictive. With the main content of each episode running around the eight minute mark, it’s equally as easy to casually dip into episode by episode as it is to suddently realise that Oleg’s report is reaching its conclusion.

The series owes part of its accessibility to its structure. At no point does it feel like a feature-length film mercilessly hacked into nine segments, yet, due to the brevity of each episode it doesn’t have the conventional flow of a regular TV series either. Instead, Circledrawers uses scenes as snapshots that gradually unveil the life of its subjects rather than driving a run of specific narrative events. Obviously this comes at the cost of some themes not being developed to their full potential – the angels’ fear of women for example – but it also sidesteps the old TV drama pitfall of over studiously examining a side issue.

Circledrawers poster

Circledrawers poster

The production values are accomplished throughout and really don’t fall too short of what you’d expect from something altogether more expensive; the cinematography compliments the quiet, ethereal atmosphere, the sets are functionably realistic and orchestration occasionally underpins scenes that are lighter on dialogue.

Similarly, the cast collectively keep their performances appropriately restrained and in the process help the sandpaper dry jokes run to maximum effect. Admittedly it takes a while to accept Hilmir Snær Guðnason’s Russian accent, but his nuanced expressions more than compensate. The use of two former Sopranos (Steve Schirripa and Sharon Angela) seems to be a concession to reaching an audience but they’re strong enough for that not to be an issue. That said, each episode commences with the exact same Schirripa introduction and it soon becomes an irritant. Why not follow Lars von Trier’s lead in The Kingdom (Riget) and make each a unique, episode specific speech that adds charm to the already culty approach?

Regardless, Circledrawers is an entertaining watch worthy of investigation for anyone who likes their viewing to be of a rich, individualistic nature.

The whole first series can be streamed and/or purchased here.
Entire series downloads cost just under three dollars and the proceeds go towards funding the second series.

“Circledrawers are what they are because they lived what you might call unfruitful lives”

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