Onur Tukel’s uber neurotic writer-director-actor shtick has earned him comparisons to Woody Allen, and he’s turning out to be just as prolific: a year after the Brooklyn director’s Bushwick vampire flick, Summer of Blood, appeared at the Tribeca Film Festival (it’s now on Netflix), he’s returned with Applesauce, another genre-bender about a man whose life goes to shit after he confesses the worst thing he’s ever done.
Applesauce was shot in the East Village and Bushwick over the course of 16 days this winter, Tukel said after its world premiere at Tribeca last night. He’s been editing it the past three months.
The film starts off with Ron (Onur) calling into Stevie Bricks, a talk show host who resembles Eric Bogosian’s shock-jock character in Talk Radio. Shadowy studio lighting and the dulcet tones of a saxophone drive home the ’80s noir vibe as Ron confesses something for the first time: during a fight at a frat party, he slammed a door on someone’s hand and severed two of the guy’s fingers.
During the post-screening Q&A, Tukel revealed that a friend actually did this to someone 20 years ago, and Tukel sought his blessing to use the story as the basis of a movie. “What if the guy comes back after me?” Tukel remembered his friend telling him. “What’s the statute of limitations? Did I do anything illegal? Is it unethical to squeeze comedy out of this blood-soaked story, so to speak?”
In Applesauce, Tukel tries to squeeze not just comedy out of the story, but also elements of horror, noir, and suspense. Soon after Ron unburdens himself of the story, his life begins to unravel: his friend Les (played by Max Casella, aka Doogie Howser’s BFF Vinnie) discovers that his wife had a “little fingerbanging party” with Ron and threatens to some Sicilians on him.
The mob threat seems like little more than a coy reference to Casella’s post-Doogie roles on shows like The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire. And Ron doesn’t seem too concerned: “I’m not a coward,” he deadpans. “I used to live in Bed-Stuy.” But one day Ron gets a severed finger in the mail. Did Les send the appendage, or was it one of Ron’s high school students, who hates him for his hamfisted teachings about American foreign policy? (Let’s just say Ron’s lesson on hijab isn’t quite as elucidating as another Tribeca standout, Among the Believers.) Needless to say, two bumbling NYPD officers can’t hone in on a suspect (“there’s a lot of white people in New York,” one of them says), though they do manage to find out that the finger was slathered in marinara sauce instead of blood.
But back to that Bed-Stuy joke for a second. Ron now lives in Clinton Hill, but there’s a scene where he ducks out of his laundromat (actually filmed in Bushwick) to pick up “the best cupcakes in Brooklyn” (actually purchased at the Creffle Café on the Lower East Side) and then back to his laundromat where he makes a gruesome discovery. Other scenes find him wandering his neighborhood, but he’s actually in the East Village. “We basically shot where we could and where they let us shoot,” Tukel explained to an audience member who busted him on trying to pass St. Marks Place off as Brooklyn.
While Ron tries to figure out who’s mailing him body parts, he’s also trying to repair his marriage, and eventually he manages to get his wife back in the sack. Trieste Kelly Dunn, who plays Nicki, told the crowd how she made it through the sex scene: “Onur sweats a lot and Melodie [Sisk, producer who had a sex scene with Tukel in Summer of Blood] has this great technique if anybody wants to use it – she put a pillow between our crotches so that he could really thrust without me feeling like I was being, like, accosted.”
“But I burst through that pillow,” Tukel joked.
Casella also had a sex scene – the first of his career, Tukel told the crowd – with Jennifer Prediger (7 Chinese Brothers). “It was good fun,” Casella said during the q&a. “I was worried about it [but there was] nothing to worry about.”
If you want to see Tukel’s naked ass – the only body part that’s not slathered in marinara – Applesauce continues its Tribeca run tonight at 9:30pm at Bow Tie Cinemas Chelsea and screens again at Regal Cinemas Battery Park on Thursday at 8:45pm and Friday at 8:30pm.