[ HIFF ]

Moody tale paints image
of an artist

Just as his wayward protagonist Nick, in "Graffiti Artist," boldly adorns public walls, trains and bus stops with his spray can illustrations, filmmaker James Bolton makes a nervy wager with a movie that favors mood and understatement over dialogue, action and plot.

"Graffiti Artist"

USA, part of the festival's Western Showcase, playing at 10 p.m. tomorrow at Dole Cannery cineplex

* * *

The 80-minute endeavor moves at its own will and pace, mirroring the lifestyle of a young drifter whose primary goal is to make his mark -- literally -- in the Pacific Northwest. Nick, a doleful, heavy-lidded nomad who, under the cover of darkness, tags Portland and Seattle under the graffiti handle "Rupture," leads a solitary life. His interactions with others are scant, save for run-ins with the law over his nocturnal sorties in train yards and abandoned warehouses.

Nick's activities bring him into contact with Jesse, a fellow graffiti artist who, at first glimpse, appears to have much in common with the skateboard-toting outlaw. It soon becomes clear, however, that while the pair share an interest in street art, they come from divergent backgrounds. Jesse is of considerably greater resources than thievish Nick, and enjoys his own flat in Seattle, where he takes in his new friend.

As the pair steal and face capture together, their thorny and awkward relationship assumes their fiery risk-and-reward outlook, which leads to a fateful, wordless exchange that turns a once-promising pact into an uncomfortable estrangement.

Interestingly, Bolton makes no attempt to romanticize graffiti or its practitioners and is unconcerned with communicating its history or place in society to audiences. Graffiti exists in this film as a communal entity for its principal characters and as a striking metaphor for the perilous prospect of skirting societal boundaries.

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