J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

ADIFF ’11: Mother Country

Dwight Porter starts out as a character from a gritty inner city crime drama, but becomes Tom Joad. Life on the open highways is hard, but at least it is living in Maria Breaux’s Mother Country (trailer here), which screens tonight and tomorrow night at the 2011 African Diaspora International Film Festival.

Porter is a weak young man living in a predatory environment. He knows better, but he still lets his cousin goad him into doing wrong. Unfortunately, this leads to tragedy when he inadvertently kills an innocent girl as part of meaningless feud. More out fear than guilt, he literally walks away from the scene, heading to California from Austin, Texas, on foot.

That is a brutal hike, but Porter finds some help along the way. Frankly, the sullen protagonist is a problematic POV figure, but the way the predominantly white exurbanites react to him is surprisingly intriguing and nuanced. While they span the gamut, they are often quite compassionate, or Christian, as some of them put it.

Even though Porter changes his surroundings, we see he still carries the resulting psychological baggage. Indeed, the nub of the film really concerns whether or not Porter can come to terms with his emotional issues. Still, at least he sees some action on the road.

Though shot on a shoestring, Country boasts a mostly (though not entirely) professional grade cast, including Tabatha Shaun, bright and engaging as Leah, one of the ships Porter passes in the night. Of particularly interest to those of us who came up in the 80’s, Ferris Bueller’s mom, Cindy Pickett, has a substantial supporting role as Porter’s former high school teacher Pamela Dupree. She has several scenes of uncomfortable honesty that really help make the picture. As Porter, Thomas Galasso is actually rather effective when he shakes off his character’s extreme reserve, but he currently lacks that dynamic presence to prevent viewers from getting restive during his many scenes of silent wandering.

Breaux really is on to something with Country, presenting Porter’s first meaningful adult encounters with those outside his race and class, in a sharply-observed, even-keeled manner. In fact, she is clearly tougher on Porter than any of her other supporting players. This is not mumblecore (thank the merciful lord). Country is headed in a very definite direction that is rather interesting, more often than not. Though understandably a bit uneven, those who seriously track the indie film scene should check out Country when it screens tonight and tomorrow night (12/6 & 12/7) at the 2011 ADIFF.

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