Jimmy the Saint

2017 Dances with Films Festival

Written and directed by Branden Morgen, Jimmy the Saint is a dark fable that’s been racking up awards since its début in May including the Audience Award at the recent First Glance Film Festival. Set in a gritty Los Angeles where tourists rarely venture, Jimmy Delfino (Zach Hursh) is working off a debt driving for a Russian mobster named Viktor (Jeff Murray). It’s a stacked deck. Viktor has no intention of releasing sweet-faced Jimmy from his bag man duties. Something that happened in New York haunts Jimmy, another reason he’s stuck.

Viktor’s enforcer is Anton (Brandon Breault), a towering psychopath with a thick Russian accent who’s adept at administering pain with something called a “Russian six pack.” He’s in a relationship with Petra (Christine Lakin), the den mother at the house where the women Viktor has trafficked into the country live. Late in the film, Petra proves to have a good heart but it isn’t obvious as she rules over her girls. Jimmy drives them to their “dates” with paying customers. When newcomer Kira (Anne-Solenne Hatte) shows up, Jimmy finally has a reason to break out of his passivity.

Kira danced with the Bolshoi but got caught up with gangsters because of her father. She’s hesitant and terrified. Jimmy is protective but limited on how much he can help her. She’s a virtual prisoner and has the threat to her father in the old country hanging over her. French actress Hatte is perfectly cast as the young innocent.

It’s hard to be a saint in the city.

Likewise, Hursh plays Jimmy with a winning combination of toughness and sensitivity. When Jimmy watches Kira dance something changes inside him and there’s no turning back. From there it becomes a classic “lover’s on the run” story topped off with a heist scheme. Even if Jimmy can get past Viktor, there’s Anton gunning for him.

At the Dances with Films Q&A, Morgen discussed shooting with cinematographer Zack Paris and a small crew around Los Angeles, sometimes guerrilla style, keeping an eye out for the LAPD. It paid off in the authentic look of the film. He also emphasized that it was a union shoot (SAG Ultra Low Budget) where everyone got paid. I asked Breault about speaking Russian as Anton. Surprisingly, it was something he hadn’t done before but said he “had some down time” when he was able to nail down the note perfect accent.

Veteran actress Lakin [Veronica Mars, 2014)], who’s married to Breault, is also believable playing the Russian Petra. She ended the Q&A with a heartfelt tribute to the director saying she wanted to “brag a second on Branden Morgen” because “what he did was so smart.” She said she loves working on independent films, “some more than others.” Knowing what a tight schedule it would be, the director had the main cast rehearse and block out scenes. Because of that, they knew exactly what they doing when they went in front of the camera. “By the time we went in for coverage it felt like we were in a play … So, if I can impart any wisdom to filmmakers out there, I think that’s the best thing you can do.”