Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
American Fable: Farm Subsidies and Other Crimes
no profession carries as much extraneous romanticizing as the family farmer.
Everyone assumes farming is inherited through the genes and if you were born on
a plot of land than you are destined to work it. That almost sounds like
serfdom. Meanwhile, nobody asks what all those price supports do for the cost
of food for the urban working poor. Maybe Gitty’s father Abe was actually
better suited to a different line of work, but he considers himself a born farmer.
To save their ailing farm Abe and her brutish older brother Martin will entwine
themselves in a risky criminal scheme in Anne Hamilton’s American Fable (trailer here), which opens
this Friday in New York.
(short for Gertrude) idolizes her father Abe, but her mega-pregnant mother
Sarah not so much—and her jerkheel brother even less so. Therefore, when she
discovers a battered man evidently being held captive in their silo, the
implications are quite troubling. Rather puzzlingly, he implores her not to
speak to her father of him. Instead, he asks her to bring food and books, which
would be Jonathan, an agri-businessman, who is soon reported missing (under
suspicious circumstance) on the local news. Not being an idiot, Gitty starts to
suspect Honest Abe and Murderous Martin are behind his abduction, apparently in
cahoots with a Cruella de Vil figure known as Vera. The more time she spends
with the captive, the more she fears for his safety.
sure can be disillusioning, can’t it? At eleven years-old, Gitty will have to
choose between her soul and her family (and possibly her life). Given her
circumstances, we can well understand why she has such surreal dreams. She is
also prone to fall into bouts of symbolically laden reverie. Her subconscious
takes special inspiration from chess pieces, but she seems to forget her father’s
evocative tale of scarecrows (Chekhov would not approve).
paid her first dues under Terence Malick’s tutelage and you can see his
influence in her Andrew Wyeth-esque imagery. Frankly, there is a lot of
Americana influencing Fable, including
To Kill a Mockingbird and even Huck Finn. After all, Gitty must decide
whether she will do the right thing, even though it runs counter to the class
warfare values she has been inculcated in.
Kennedy is a forceful and relatively mature Scout Finch-figure, who holds up
well under the film’s long, close-up scrutiny. Likewise, Richard Schiff is
terrific as the hostage, conveying all due desperation, as well as his own
compassion for the bullied and misunderstood Gitty. Gavin MacIntosh is just
ridiculously hostile as Martin. It gets to the point we just can’t believe
respectable parents like Abe and Sarah would put up with his abusive behavior.
On the flipside, Kip Pardue’s Abe completely lacks the dark edge a desperate
kidnapping accomplice really needs to have.
Hamilton allows Abe to misrepresent the Aesop
fable of “The Lion & the Mouse,” presenting it, without correction, more in
the spirit of “The Scorpion and the Frog,” which apparently dates back to Orson
Welles in Mr. Arkadin. That poor lion
gets slandered. Regardless, Fable features
two excellent central performances, but the trappings are a tad over-stylized.
Still, as debuts go, it shows promise. Recommended for fans of rural gothic, American Fable opens this Friday (2/17)
in New York, at the IFC Center.
Labels: Coming of age films, Kidnapping films