Memphis

The thing about sorcery, says the inscrutable protagonist of Tim Sutton’s sophomore feature early on, is that the magic doesn’t fulfill everything you thought it would. Let this be a disclaimer: that the power of Sutton’s ostensibly slow, plotless, aloof little film may depend on your receptivity to it. That protagonist, played with magnetic force by eccentric underground Chicago songwriter and former Found magazine cover boy Willis Earl Beal, is a musician who skulks around Tennessee’s most musically famous town, failing to make music. He’s losing his mojo, but looking for it, or maybe looking for something else, something more profound. Indeed, Memphis is the perfect star vehicle for a guy with an EP called “Curious Cool,” who clearly has given much thought to the idea that being real is a performance. The movie’s agitatedly dreamy aura is much harder to achieve than less patient viewers may realize. And it has a purpose here, as a kind of mystical ethnography. (Look, would we rather have a Hollywood gloss on this or a Brooklyn indie filmmaker gloss?) Sutton has a sympathetic eye for urban desolation, and his ethereal quasi-documentary style privileges emptiness, both spatial and aural. Even when out of sorts, the main character is clearly in his element. And the title character, as it were, becomes a city that’s only the faded outskirts of itself. Its metabolism may be unfamiliar, but this extraordinary movie has true rhythm, and true life.