October 2014
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Reviews by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

We went to the Hamptons and Woodstock film festivals as usual and saw some lesser known movies. Breathe (2014) directed by Melanie Laurent is an uneasy drama about two outsider high school girls whose intense bond becomes increasingly strained. One us inward, anti-social and loves ferociously. The other is sociable, chaotic, a pathological liar and finally, a bully. It all ends with an unexpected act of violence the movie didn't quite signal was possible and also a role reversal-- which was the character with whom we were meant to identify?

The Special Need (2013) directed by Carlo Zorati, was a completely phony documentary about a sympathetic subject, a 29 year old autistic man whose friends decide to help him lose his virginity. Its falsity is immediately communicated by the editing, in which, during a single conversation, the camera is first in, then next to, a moving car. At a q and a after, one of the producers acknowledged that when you follow an autistic guy with a camera, "nothing happens", so you have to stage stuff to get his reaction. The ethical problem could easily be solved by calling it an improvised drama with amateur actors.

The Great Invisible (2014) directed by Margaret Brown was a much better documentary about the Chevron oil spill, following oil rig workers and fishermen in the aftermath trying to hang on while politicians and CEO's utter smarmy sound bites. Late in the film, a representative of the settlement fund sits in an empty church waiting for local people who desperately need his help-- some have lost trailers to foreclosure and are living in the woods. Yet they don't come because they don't trust him. The world of the people who cut costs, understaffed and under maintained the rig, and that of the people who suffered, are wholly separate--they intersect only at the oil spill.

August Winds (2014) directed by Gabriel Mascaro unfortunately exemplified the worst of festival movies-- it was static and pretentious and barely had a plot. A young couple in a Brazilian fishing village is stressed when the man becomes obsessed caring for a stranger's corpse according to the local rite. The director holds every shot forever, and the actors barely emote. It was mumblecore with coral and coconuts.

In Woodstock I saw another documentary that disturbed me. The story at the center of Little White Lie (2014) directed by Lacy Schwartz was an interesting one: the director grew up with white Jewish parents but looked African American, and didn't find out the truth about her origins until she was in her 20's (her mother had had an affair, and her real father was a friend of the family, an African American basketball scout and ticket scalper). But in a style going back to the Loud family on PBS in the 80's, she documents by bringing a camera to every family event, finally confronting her humiliated white father, the man who found out she wasn't his when she turned sixteen. I wanted to yell, "Bat the lens away! Make her turn the camera off!" I looked in vain for a reflective element-- some Frantz Fanon-- but there were only platitudes. Finally, there was an unintentionally humorous aspect: the director becomes African American in the manner of an intense Jewish girl who really wants to.

Finally--the real but rare pay-off at festivals--we saw the best film we have seen this year, Wildlike (2014) directed by Frank Hall Green. A teenager, Mckenzie, runs away from a molesting uncle in Juneau and, trying to get back to her mom in Seattle, ends up hiking in Denali with an accidental angel, the one man in the environment who doesn't want her. Its suspenseful, beautiful and satisfying, and filmed entirely on location in stunning Alaskan landscapes.