Wednesday, April 11, 2018

SFIFF 61: Day Six

Purge This Land

What starts as an historical travelogue of John Brown's life becomes a filmic essay by Lee Anne Schmitt about race in America. Powerful yet spare, it traces what the director referred to in the Q&A as a "continuum" of events, attitudes and experiences across the last 200 years. Told through a series of mostly-still shots, voiceover, and the occasional archival photograph or excerpt, it offers no answers, but raises plenty of questions. For those willing to adapt to its slow, careful, quiet style, it provides a timely catalyst for further thought and, just maybe, action.

Leave No Trace

The narrative followup to director Debra Granik's much-heralded Winter's Bone, this film also focuses on a teenage girl in (mostly) rural America. But this time the mood is, if not light, at least less harsh. A girl and her veteran father are living illegally in a park near Portland, Oregon, when they're discovered by social services, and we follow them as they try to adapt to the world, with mixed success. I wanted to love this, but too much of it failed to connect, despite a strong central performance from New Zealander Thomasin McKenzie. The story holds no sense of ambiguity, with a series of heavy-handed metaphors, images, and pronouncements. And the scenery, though shot on location in Oregon, felt too "bright" (for lack of a better word) and thus unfamiliar to my PNW self. I wished for the eye of another native: this would have made a great subject for Kelly Reichardt.

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