Piers Marchant at True/False, Day Two

March 3, 2018

True/False 2018: Day 2

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Number of Films: 3
Best Movie of the Day: Hale County This Morning, This Evening

The Family: Slovenian director Rok Biček’s film, shot over a decade, follows the punishing life steps of his friend, Matej, as he goes from slightly goofy, techno-nerd teen, to a father of a young daughter, to a man putting himself isolated on an island and not realizing the ramifications. Living in a small town some distance away from the city in which he works – though we rarely see him on a job – Matej spends the majority of his time cavorting with his new girlfriend, a teen girl, and hanging out in his parents’ house, a cramped affair, made only slightly less so after the death of his father about midway through. Matej is rootless and oddly disaffected – one scene, in which he coolly dispatches the aging family dog (off camera), let us just say, did not endear him to me – and becomes depressingly less emotional as the film progresses. Early after the birth of his child, he hugs the kindly father of his ex goodbye and is clearly sobbing when he goes, by the end of the film, he makes a series of what should be deeply emotional decisions and seems not to care a whit about their long-term ramifications. It is an interesting peek into the clutter and din of someone else’s life, but as a leading man, Matej becomes pretty thoroughly unlikable by the end.

The Flight of a Bullet: Conceptually, Beata Bubenec’s single-take documentary, offers a kind of condensed journey into the mundane nature of longstanding conflict, which of course, is a fascinating idea. In practice, however, the film plays a bit like a Richard Linklater conceit, a single camera swooping from one curious figure to the next, putting us in the presence of awful people we desperately want to move away from. We begin on a mostly destroyed small bridge in rural Ukraine, where separatists have just struck a blow to the local economy. A pair of people are shooting the bridge, the gaping holes in the tarmac, the upended trucks lying like corpses, as the enterprising townspeople are attempting to hand carry their fruit and vegetables stocks across the treacherous way into town. Suddenly, a masked policeman arrives, and quickly makes an arrest of a seemingly innocent man, and the camera people – of all things – get into a car with the cop and the prisoner. They turn out to be connected with the police force, as it happens, so as they arrive at the barracks just outside of town, the interrogation, such as it is, continues in front of the camera. Thing is, after a short raft of questions, it turns out the arrested man really was innocent, and is quickly vouched for. Drama dispensed with, he and the arresting officer – still in ski cap – make a map of the man’s village, and rattle off half-baked strategies for rooting out the separatists. The camera then sort of swings around, up and down the hallways, eventually alighting on another cop, shirtless and smoking, as he calmly tells his apparently unfaithful girlfriend over the phone how much he’s going to beat the hell out of her when they next meet, in between yawning – as everyone does throughout the film. As his deadpan threats continue, we meet yet another young cop who sexually harasses the filmmaker over and over again (which she laughs off). The effect is to show how all these different sorts of interrogations become similar during wartime, but as the film meanders around, in search of other things to latch onto, one can’t help but feel as if trapped in the mire of this banality. I’m not sure that’s a criticism, exactly.

Hale County This Morning, This Evening: Strongly gloried at Sundance, ReMell Ross’ film plays like a synoptic collage of images and moments. Ostensibly, he has made a film about a pair of young men growing up in a small, rural Alabama town, but rather than following a rote, linear trajectory (a la Hoop Dreams), he has instead made a marvelously subjective study of the community. We aren’t following a traditional narrative arc – though we do see certain events as they transpire over the several years of shooting – but we do get a strong sense of the people and the land upon which they live. Ross intersperses scenes of social connection (a young boy races from one spot in the house to another, over and over again; a matriarch addresses the camera directly, positing an opinion on a family member), along with gorgeous shots of the country around them (time lapse shots of the stars, cows on a field, a car streaming down the road, with fields blurring past; the path of a particular bee on the flatbed of a truck), and the effect suggests a deep reveal of the very fabric of our time on this earth. Ross has said that he wanted to make a film that challenged the way in which black people were presented on screen, and what stories were told about them, and he has succeeded in ways that are difficult to pinpoint, so meticulous is his composition and editing. Working from a set of self-imposed visual rules, connecting his images via an intricate use of his own metaphors – drops of sweat hit a concrete gym floor, giving way to rain drops hitting a sidewalk in a similar pattern – Ross has stitched together a gorgeous document of a time and place.

Tomorrow: A slate of docs that include Makala, Shirkers, and Three Identical Strangers.

Photo from Hale County This Morning, This Evening

Escaping the miserable ice and slain of Philadelphia this March weekend, I am down in Columbia, MO, home of the 15-year-old True/False Film Festival, a collection of (mostly) documentary films, entertaining buskers, and outrageously dressed Q queens.


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