‘Happy Hour’ Is a Jim Jarmusch Style Look at the Lonely Life of a Lower East Side Bartender

At 14 minute long, short drama, shot in black and white? And yet Happy Hour brims with nostalgic irony thanks to a lead character chiseled out of the poetry and grime found in the bathroom of your local bar.

This week’s short is a fiction/documentary hybrid centered on the vampiric existence of a bartender name Utah, who looks for balance even as he is a protagonist in New York’s overindulgent nightlife. Utah doles cheap pours at LES’s International Bar, an aspirational name for a watering hole full of stoned locals. And that is the beauty of Happy Hour: it’s depiction of urban bucolic, of the loneliness that sets in even when you’re surrounded by millions of people, and the amount of alcohol necessary to satisfy your late-night introspections. The man behind the bar is the facilitator and in order to for us to adequately transgress, he’s got to get home at five in the morning and do laundry. The takeaway? Tip generously.

Mexican filmmaker Benjamin Villeda shot the film during the three years he spent living in New York City, and while enrolled at the New York Film Academy. Happy Hour shows Villeda’s overall great understanding of film grammar as well as sensitivity for his subjects. This is clear not just in the way that Villeda portrays Utah’s haplessness but also in how he highlights it, devoid of any judgment or conventional expectations of resolution; shit is what it is, as many of us analytical night owls should just accept. The film mixes staged scenes with naturalistic interviews. Split screen in used for the sake of parallel action and helps keep the story moving. The photography is like milk and tar — high contrast — fitting for a portrait of a guy who flinches when he sees sunlight.

Villeda’s more recent, Vimeo Staff Pick-ed, Dive, is also worth checking out.