Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Medeas: Greek Tragedy in California
celebrated character might be a monster, but she is a tragic monster. The
challenge to mounting each new adaptation comes in the balancing of audience
sympathy and revulsion for her. Alas, poor Ennis gets precious little of the
former. He will suffer many indignities without achieving any cathartic release.
Greek tragedy comes to California scrub-grass country in Andrea Pallaoro’s Medeas (trailer here), which opens
tomorrow in New York.
takes a while to diagnose the troubles ailing Ennis’s family, because they
speak so little. It is not necessarily due to poor lines of communication. His
wife Christina is a deaf mute, so idle chatter really isn’t worth the effort. Initially,
he seems like a strict, but loving father. Unfortunately, he is also a devout
Christian, so he is likely in for some painful cinematic karma.
his relationship with Christina has strained to the point she rather openly
carries on with the local gas station attendant. In a moment of staggeringly
irresponsible behavior, she allows their second oldest son (and the most
rebellious) to see her in flagrante delicto. Meanwhile, in the wake of a
persistent draught, Ennis’s credit is cut-off, jeopardizing his status as
probably makes Medeas sound plottier
and more passionate than it really is. Ennis and his brood put the “hard” in
hardscrabble and the “slow” in slow cinema. It is the sort of film that
probably has more shots of the back of Ennis’s head than his eyes. Of course,
that also makes it easier to objectify and dehumanize him.
is definitely one family in search of Terrence Malick. Unfortunately, Pallaoro
so thoroughly stacks the deck against Ennis and so defiantly keeps viewers at
arm’s length, Medeas has nowhere near
the emotional power of Malick protégé A.J. Edwards’ The Better Angels or Malick’s divisive To the Wonder. To their credit, Brían F. O’Byrne and Catalina
Sandino Moreno completely inhabit the space their characters live in, yet it is
still hard to engage with them. Nonetheless, cinematographer Chayse Irvin makes
the thirsty Southern Californian landscape visually stunning, in a harsh,
it is the case quietly deliberate, narratively ambiguous films either connect
at a gut level or they don’t. It is always an idiosyncratic thing—one size does
not fit all, but Medeas is
particularly stingy in the hooks it provides the audience to help pull them
through. Despite its conscious awareness of its own importance, it is hard to
recommend Medeas beyond a small
circle of anti-commercial cineastes when it opens tomorrow (1/16) in New York,
at the Village East.