Friday, February 26, 2016

Thou Wast Mild and Lovely (2014)

I've known about Josephine Decker for a bit, mainly through Richard Brody. He's become one of her main champions, going so far as to call her the "most extreme" example recent filmmakers seeking a "reappraisal of narrative" as a kind of solution to the banality of current filmic storytelling. He cites movies like Upstream Color, To the Wonder, and Holy Motors as recent examples, and perhaps we should include something like Claire Denis' The Intruder as well. I'm still not sure how necessary this new form of narrative is or how exactly it is to be defined other than the fact that it seems to rely on a combination of spontaneity, emotion, and traditional stories/themes to create a radical narrative form centered on the image. 

I recently got around to watching Decker's most recent film, Thou Wast Mild and Lovely, which is partly inspired by Steinbeck's East of Eden but really feels more like a bad dream directed by Terrence Malick. In one sense it's a good thing, as Decker takes all sorts of Malick trademarks-sun-bleached images, handheld shots following characters through fields, lots of images of animals and insects-and subverts them. While Malick was attempting to capture beauty, Decker's trying to instill in the audience a sense of dread and unease. The story, which concerns a somewhat aloof man named Akin (Joe Swanberg) working on a farm for a father (Robert Longstreet) and his daughter (Sophie Traub, who could easily pass as a sibling of Elizabeth Moss) sounds like melodrama but in Decker's hands feels strange and unsettling.

Does it work? I think it does in moments, mostly the ones where Robert Longstreet gets to create really awkward and creepy table talk. But really if you like this sort of thing, you know who you are. I won't vouch for it fully, and what I appreciate about it is its recklessness, something that can never get old. 

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