(Eric Mendelsohn, 2010, USA)
A suburban ennuiaganza gratifyingly unlike any other. This is due in large part to a highly stylized co-ordination of visuals and music that appears to have been ill-received by critics and audiences alike (if received at all--there are still just 623 votes on IMDb) but which clicked with me immediately. I was reminded less of other movies than certain ostensibly realist fiction in which the realism is regenerated by thrilling and unruly language, like Leonard Michaels or especially Joy Williams, in whose work these glancingly-related characters would be right at home: the husband who skulks outside the house on his phone and pretends he's calling his family from the plane he missed; the girl who frees a French poodle from a tree in the middle of the woods then finds its owner-or-is-he doing unpleasant things in a shed. Edie Falco gives a skillfully but almost unbearably excruciating performance as a woman who isn't prepared for the consequences of cultivating "reality" on foreign soil when a celebrity neighbour asks her for a ride to the ferry.
I kept hearing Holst in Michael Nicholas's score, and there is indeed a strange cosmic quality to the nonverbal passages in which his music commands the action, even beyond the lengthy shots of the night sky and the lens flares (for once utilized with real style and force). As in The Planets, conceived by Holst as astrological interpretations, it's Earth First: looking beyond our immediately visible reality (/realism) in an attempt to reckon with the mysteries in which that reality is ever-enveloped but which we spend our lives struggling to comprehend. And species-inclusive: the opening shot, descending from high trees on a lone house, its occupants visible but silent and immobile, evokes a terrarium (okay now that brings to mind the opening of Allan King's discord doc A Married Couple
) before the gorgeous credits sequence leads us through the woods surrounding the neighbourhood and their birds & bees & foxes & spiders & where we will presently return with Rachel Resheff's young Christina to confront an entirely different kind of wild life. Here the film switches to an almost fabulist register and incredibly, almost alchemically, succeeds. (I can imagine complaints about the plainly "unrealistic"-bordering-on-arch manner in which this vignette plays out, but such a position would necessarily negate any attempt to represent the horrific in anything but cornpone corporate-media-approved "reality" and is thus untenable.) Much of the credit goes to Resheff's performance, and Mendelsohn's direction of it. It's in her expressions: the mischief, curiosity, intelligence. Her journey resonates through all time: good ol' guileful innocence facing down dumb depravity. Presumably micromanaged child performances like this are risky affairs, but Mendelsohn's tonal control and Resheff's natural charisma (this was her first film) come through.
At the end of the film, important pieces of information remain unknown: about a woman to herself, about a child to her parents, and about the most "important" character to us, background information that conventional American dramatic cinema would hold as essential. And not for no reason: the film lacks that rightfully-prized impact, and you feel it, but it is successful in a rarer way. In its many perfectly-observed character beats and as adventurous filmmaking that accepts, respects, and ultimately celebrates mystery, and says you should, too.
How faireth The Kote? Beautifully. His finest work from Ararat
in 2002 till now, I think. A little more on faces: his is as malleable as any white dude within twenty years of him. Those aging crags belie trenches of subtle emotional warfare. May he find more generals who know what he can do on the front lines.