Piers Marchant at True/False, Day Three

March 8, 2020

True/False 2020: Day 3


Number of Films: 3
Film of the Day: Time

Time: A lot of docs concerning incarceration are about those many people falsely accused, procedurals about the process of the injustice and how it was, or was not, rectified. Garrett Bradley‘s breathless doc does concern a family whose patriarch is locked up for two decades as his wife and six sons grow without him, but that’s about as far as that comparison holds. While it does speak about the reckless indifference of the Louisiana penal system, it also follows the lead of its primary protagonist, the indefatigable Sibil “Fox” Rich, the family’s matriarch, and the remarkable job she did raising her sons and staying in constant contact with her soulmate Rob, even as the minutes, hours, days and months slip past. Briefly Imprisoned herself for the bank robbery the pair committed in their youth, when Sibil was released, she immediately went to work shoring up the family she and her husband had been removed from before. As an advocate, businesswoman and frequent public speaker, Sibil instills in her sons the same conscientiousness and patience with which she keeps everyone in her orbit afloat. Still, Bradley‘s film isn’t just about the incredible tenacity and resolution of its heroine. It also works as a meditation on the passage of the grains of sand in our collective hourglass, the way so much of our time on this earth is spent in repetition— from the jack-hammering of an industrial excavator, to Sibil’s  own repeated mantras, the shifting clouds, and the endless stream of phone calls she has to make on her husband’s behalf — one such call, which she makes over and over to the secretary of a judge whose ruling she’s eagerly awaiting, finally gets so infuriating that she momentarily loses her cool, allowing her fire to briefly consume her genial positivity. And yet, at the end, when she and her family are finally allowed to reconstitute, the emotional catharsis is so blindingly intense and joyous, tears came spilling down my cheeks regardless. Ostensibly, it’s about the strain of incarceration on even the most grounded of families (an experience naturally disproportionate for POCs); but, on a deeper level, it’s also about the manner of our use of the limited number of revolutions we get to enjoy situated on this earth. It is a profound knock-out. 

Collectiv: We’ll stick with the original Romanian spelling of the title here, though even on the T/F program, it’s listed in English translation, adding the last ‘e.’ The title refers to the fateful Romanian nightclub whose deadly blaze killed dozens of young people, due to the club’s complete lack of safety exits, the shirking of regulations a result of Romania’s seemingly endless corruption. But in Alexander Nanau’s extraordinary film, that bit of graft is only the initial layer of the rotted onion: In the aftermath of the tragedy, many of the injured survivors started dying in the Bucharest hospitals. Upon further investigation by the Sports Gazette, primarily a paper dealing with athletic achievement, it gets revealed that the patients were dying of acute infections they caught while in treatment because the disinfectants the hospitals were using were twice diluted  —  first, from the chemical company that produced them; second, by the hospital itself. If that were not enough, it is later reported that the purchasing of these products, and everything else the hospitals use in their daily business, was handled by the hospital managers, themselves completely untrained, corrupt and reaping massive payouts by skimming from the state endowments. Beyond that, Nanau’s film continues to dig through the rot (it is also part of the system that the nurses pay off the doctors to get assigned to surgeries, because the patients pay big bribes to doctors and staff who take care of them) until the corruption seems so thorough and all-consuming, as to be permanently entrenched. The breath of hope in the film, when the inept Minister of Health resigns, leading to the placing of a new, emboldened director who works quickly to clean the quagmire left by his predecessors, is just as quickly expelled after the next round of elections, in which the Social Democrat party  —  the very ones in charge of this catastrophe in the first place  —  gets re-elected with an even greater majority than what they had before. A perfect reflection of what happens when a government is allowed to exist without any meaningful oversight, other than from a bedraggled press and a disenchanted electorate. 

Pier Kids: An interesting, albeit meandering, film about the subculture of gay and trans black teens that make Manhattan’s Christopher Street Pier into their social hub. Director Elegance Bratton, himself once a homeless kid himself, has an amazing rapport with his subjects, which allows us to see the inner world of their lives. One trans woman, Krystal, becomes the film’s focal point, her painful dealings with her mother and aunt back in Kansas City (neither of them will accept her new gender), and her surprisingly warm relationship with her two brothers. There’s much to appreciate here, although the shape of the film itself feels inexact, as if Bratton wasn’t sure how to best convey what he was after. 

Tomorrow: On my last day of the festival, I’ll hit The Mole Agent early; then, off to Welcome to Chechnya; and closing off things with one of my most anticipated, Kiersten Johnson’s Dick Johnson is Dead.

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