Friday, July 7, 2017

DVDebut: Anne Hamilton's smart mix of family, farming, fairy-tale & fright -- AMERICAN FABLE

A movie oddity that almost works and, in fact, comes close enough to merit a viewing, AMERICAN FABLE, by first-time/full-length filmmaker Anne Hamilton, is so interesting and unusual for so many reasons that, despite its somewhat ham-handed rendering of the fairy-tale element, the other genres it mixes and mashes work well enough to hold us in thrall and finally bring us home. Combining visual beauty, nostalgia (the film takes place in the 1980s, but it is set on the kind of family farm where time remains static), mystery and coming-of-age, Ms Hamilton (shown below), as both writer and director, has created a film that compares to little else.

Most of what we see is via the eyes, mind and feelings of the movie's heroine, Gitty, an exceedingly bright and imaginative adolescent girl, played with great charm, wit and a kind of reticent charisma by Canadian actress Peyton Kennedy (below, with pet chicken). As happened to so many American family farms during this decade of "Reaganomics" and its corporate sellout, the farm of Gitty's mom and dad is struggling to remain afloat. Though she's aware that something bad is afoot, her parents are trying to shield her from exactly how dire the situation is. As it turns out, they're also shielding her from something even worse, and this provides the heart and soul of this unsettling and oddly beautiful, strangely affecting movie.

Considering that American Fable deals with rather monstrous stuff -- the details of which I must eschew in order not to spoil things for you -- it manages to maintain a difficult balance of serenity and beauty, while offering up occasional jolts and surprise.

In its depiction of family, the movie is perhaps at its most shocking, since the villain of the piece turns out to be a somewhat unusual choice (which had me wondering if Ms Hamilton has, perhaps, some "older brother" issues). In any case, this role is taken by a good young actor, Gavin MacIntosh (above), who imbues the role with a peculiar brand of American-idiot machismo gone increasingly bonkers.

The roles of dad and mom are played well by the always reliable Kip Pardue and Marci Miller (above, left and right, respectively), while the wild card here is the character who maybe ought to be the villain but somehow is not. As played by the always excellent Richard Schiff (below and at bottom, with Ms Kennedy), this fellow proves to be the link that brings the movie's many themes and genres together.

The weakest link in all this is the would-be fairy-tale element. Yes, this is clearly part of Gitty's imagination, but the filmmaker makes these sections clunk along rather than organically meld into the rest of the movie. The POV is wrong, for one thing: We oughtn't have to view Gitty and this monster within the same frame, since this apparition is coming from Gitty's own mind and fear.

Leave out completely the ram-headed villainess-on-horseback, and the film would only be stronger, for the actress who plays her (Zuleikha Robinson) is just fine and fulfilling in her more "normal" appearances along the way. Gitty and her love for the "magic" of the natural world combined with her strong moral sense provide wonder enough here.

From IFC Midnight and running a nicely-paced 96 minutes, the movie, after hitting streaming venues and getting a very limited theatrical release, arrives on DVD this coming Tuesday, July 11 -- for purchase or rental.

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