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Review of Marie Ullrich’s Faster!

Developmental Editing, Copy Editing, and Posting by Alexandra Hidalgo

Faster! (2010). USA, 12 minutes. Directed by Marie Ullrich. Starring: Jenny Strubin, Chris Pomeroy, and Emily Skyle.

Faster Still

In her bio, Faster! director Marie Ullrich explains that she “makes films about female protagonists for whom neither the essential problem nor its solution is romantic.” This line in itself perfectly encapsulates the film’s protagonist, Jasper (Jenny Strubin), a Chicago bike messenger, who struggles to navigate the city’s physical and emotional obstacles.  Ullrich’s film brilliantly depicts Chicago’s constant movement and Jasper’s internal pressure to keep up.

For much of the film’s short duration, we see Jasper zipping through the city streets on her bike, eyes staring directly forward with a sharp gaze that is intermittingly interrupted by the harsh voice of her dispatcher.  Most of the time, we see Jasper’s body hunching forward, pushing herself ahead as she moves through the cars and pedestrians in her way. In some moments, however, the camera zooms in on her eyes, at times opened widely, sometimes almost shut with exhaustion, and eventually even starting to water. Through Jasper we see both the “essential problem” of economic and physical survival in the city, and the unromantic solution of needing to be focused and opportunistic.

Like many of us, Jasper moves through life with little pause, motivated by the undeniable need for money and tempted by all her surroundings. As she journeys through one delivery, her path is broken by commands from the dispatcher, similar to the ways our everyday affairs are often filled with tasks, people, and internal motivations telling us what to do and where to go next. Like Jasper’s dispatcher who refers to her by her “number nineteen,” many of the obstacles dominating our lives detach us from our individual identities, to the point that we may be defined (or may even define ourselves) solely by the tasks and goals we accomplish.  There is a push to go faster, to get ahead quickly, and to use whatever resources or people are in our way to make this transition more effective.

Through Jasper’s eyes, we see her gauge other people, zooming in on a woman’s fine suit and pearl necklace before stepping into an elevator filled with men in suits who tease how sweaty she is after hours of cycling. In these brief moments, Jasper has to immediately judge people around her while making instant decisions about how to react through her interactions. The quick pace of the film and the constant movement of bike wheels (which are only briefly halted by collision) keep us engaged and active in Jasper’s journey, giving us only a few brief seconds at the end to pause and reflect on her progression.

The chaos reflected in Jasper’s story also illustrates the movement between pedestrians, cyclists, and cars in Chicago’s Loop. While Jasper is working to earn every dollar she can from delivering letters and packages, she is also struggling to physically survive in the crowded city. Ullrich’s work with the bike messenger community in Chicago in preparation for the film is clearly evident. The riding footage captures the city’s obstacles through Jasper’s perspective, which brings an interesting layer of contrast between Jasper’s fully exerted body and the cars that are constantly flying by her. It seems as though Jasper is moving as quickly as she can, while remaining far behind all the commotion around her.

Ullrich fits a rich, layered story into a brief narrative. I was able to see myself in the film’s movement, in Jasper’s tired and stern expressions, and in the multiple obstacles placed in front of her. Like Ullrich’s biographical statement, the problems illustrated through the film are neither simple nor romantic, and the solutions are anything but easily identifiable. Above all, the film allowed me to pause and reflect on the negotiations we make as we navigate our daily journey to push forward, faster.

For more information about Faster! and the upcoming feature film Alley Cat also based on Jasper’s character, click here.

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