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Two Films by Dan Sallitt: The Unspeakable Act and fourteen

Imager from Amazon

The Unspeakable Act

Taboo relations often get depicted as salacious and macabre on film, so for Dan Sallitt to come out and do a low-key drama about a young woman (Talli Medel) having an unrequited and unresolved crush/fixation on her brother definitely caught my attention. I always like a more detached, intellectual approach to subject matter that might be a bit sordid because it allows the characters on display to behave rather unpredictably and not according to what one would want from them. In Sallitt’s https://www.cochise.edu/academic/pay-to-complete-homework/32/ essay writing service toronto composition essays examples cialis henderson ending an essay school autobiography essay https://pacificainexile.org/students/when-you-write-a-process-essay-you/10/ write my thesis paper https://naturalpath.net/natural-news/real-cialis-canada/100/ http://www.conn29th.org/university/professional-essay-service.htm viagra east petersburg ketrel crema https://www.arohaphilanthropies.org/heal/viagra-amity/96/ go to site rn resume help writing center bbc learning creative writing source written essay for css thesis in technical writing https://raseproject.org/treat/is-levitra-safe-to-use/97/ research papers to buy effective leadership essay basics of writing a business plan http://belltower.mtaloy.edu/studies/custom-research-paper-ghostwriters-for-hire-us/20/ where can i buy research papers online someone write my essay for me essay on my hobby book reading viagra deutsche apotheke artistic essay follow url https://pacificainexile.org/students/possible-topics-for-research-paper/10/ The Unspeakable Act, we get introduced to an extremely laid-back family where it seems arguments and confrontations do not exist. The only drama that exists is the one binding the two siblings at the center, Jackie (Medel) and Matthew (Sky Hirschkron) and even that involves them only as it’s mostly an abstract concept narrated by Jackie in voice-over.

It turns out, Jackie has harbored an unusual and borderline unhealthy fixation towards Matthew. It also becomes clear that he is aware of it because he sets clear boundaries between himself and Jackie. When he brings home a girlfriend she is so inwardly upset (while acting completely against how she feels) that she becomes unable to eat until Matthew breaks up with her. Hope sets in and Jackie conspires to have her feelings met, but it’s clear this is not an option. Somewhat resigned, Jackie then goes see a therapist and persists in being rather passively hostile, almost as a defense mechanism in which she both hurls words as sharp as knives towards the therapist, which is in reality, Jackie attempting to equal parts diminish her unhealthy attraction and perhaps self-punish herself for feeling this way.

Sallitt never ratches up the tension in Jackie’s family and the most one will see is both siblings meeting for what may seem one last time before diverging, and Matthew informing that she has finally crossed that unspoken line, This is the type of movie I love; it may not be perfect — both the mother and the other sister were underwritten and sometimes Jackie’s narration can go into too much exposition (as if Medel’s performance, equal parts alienating and intriguing were to get lost in translation somehow), Sallitt dedicates his work to French director Eric Rohmer and I can definitely see some influence without it taking away from Sallitt’s own style. Too many directors who have been influenced by other more established directors tend to emulate their style in a way that seems imitation. Sallitt, on the other hand, drops references but never steals. That, in essence, is what a narrator wants — he can wear all the influences he ha on his sleeve but they shouldn’t scream imitation or worse, reenactment down to scene selections.

And with that, I was ready to see his latest film Fourteen.

Image from Cine-Vue. Talli Medel (left) and Norma Kuhling (right in Fourteen

Fourteen

Some bonds are stronger than family. You meet that person and they become linked to you for better or worse. In Dan Sallitt’s fourth feature film Fourteen, he presents two young women who may as well be sisters from another mother. Mara (Talli Medel) and Jo (Norma Kuhling) couldn’t be any more different if they tried… but that is precisely the unseen glue that has held them together since they were fourteen. The incident that sparked their friendship was when Jo intervened in a situation where Mara was being bullied at school. From then on, they’ve been inseparable, even linked through the other’s absence.

The problem is that childhood friends grow up and with that, they grow apart. That they may not acknowledge it is contingent on how aware they are, and it seems that now the roles have progressively reversed. Mara has gotten her life together as a teacher’s aid who aspires to be a writer and is dating a great, stable guy. Jo, on the other hand, seems to have her own life in shambles… and it’s about to go from bad to worse.

Sallitt never indicates a precise timeframe to tell his story. We get no subtitles or title cards announcing a transition but infer, from the friend’s reunions, how much time has transpired. After the first scene in which both Mara and Jo and their respective boyfriends hang out and make small talk, we move to a progressive separation. Mara is married; Jo is not, and has started to become dependent on drugs to survive. A frantic call leads Mara to rush to Jo’s aid only to be cooly rebuffed by Jo’s enabler boyfriend. Jo later calls Mara in the middle of the night (after having canceled a dinner event) and shows up, ostensibly to vent out her multitude of problems. That Mara allows Joe to essentially ruin her marriage is toxic in itself, but speaks volumes for those who have been caught in that kind of friendship devoid of boundaries when one friend clearly has mental and emotional disturbances.

I kept thinking of another film in which two women — sisters, this time — sustained a friendship in which one of them slid into depravity while the other attempted to help and eventually got her own life in order: Looking for Mr. Goodbar. Now, hear me out: this is not that movie for obvious reasons. Goodbar was a movie in which two women diverged in life and the more tragic one spun into butter, essentially getting murdered viciously in the end. Take away the violence and focus the movie on a more restrained approach and you have a different rendition. Fourteen presents both women as equal, although this time Medel carries the less showy part and lets Kuhling move from false poise to defeat in 90 minutes. Kuhling’s performance is on-target for anyone with a Borderline Personality Disorder, and it is truly a wonder to see how much tragedy she conveys while on screen. The shame is that while she implicitly seems to be crying for help, a person like Jo would never truly accept it and only return to the festering wound that is killing her slowly.

Fourteen is, to put it bluntly, Sallitt’s best work and as close to a masterpiece in presenting two fully formed women interlocked in a codependent relationship. It is so far one of the best that I have seen this year in transit — rent it, and experience its universe. It is available to stream on Grasshopperfilm.com and you should see it.

When A teacup yields a storm: THE PLAGIARISTS, a Movie About Appropriation morphs into a question about race relations

I’m sitting here in the dead of night in the middle of a pandemic trying to recommend a movie that I first saw when everything closed, and then again only now, to see what I missed. You see, when I first heard of this movie which came out in New Directors New Films last year (March of 2019 to be exact), I somehow missed it through chance and availability. It’s again a curse in scheduling that I wish the Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA would look into because two showings are not enough and with new releases in theaters and their compressed schedules it is easy to miss a hidden gem.

But I digress. I finally got a chance to see it through MUBI at the beginning of April, and I was… quite angered by what I saw. To explain: The thin story — which is more of a situation than an actual plot — concerns a man (Eamon Monaghan) and a woman (Lucy Kaminsky) on their way to visit a female friend who lives in upstate New York during the winter when their car breaks down. When a stranger named Clip (Michael “Clip” Payne) approaches them offering help, both are a bit unsettled, and to be honest, perhaps I would be too because this is a scenario that could easily go from innocent to violent. [But this isn’t a horror movie; instead, it is a somewhat bland comedy of manners.]

Their suspicions seem to point to the fact that Clip is African American, friends with their friend Allison (Emily Davis), babysitting a white kid upon their arrival to his house, which he owns, and it continues to manifest even it points to the fact that he seems well educated and worldly through extensive travel. [An exchange with Tyler will reveal that Clip has been to Norway when Tyler calls the Dogme 95 movement Norwegian when in fact, it’s Danish.]

As dinner starts getting prepared, Anna and Tyler exchange conversation with Clip separately while bickering constantly as if they were rehearsing for a well-known Albee play. Meanwhile, Tyler exhibits every annoying characteristic of passive aggressive behavior masked through a know-it-all facade and showing no manners in someone else’s house. It is this that leads him to uncover a room full of vintage cameras. On the spur, Clip gives Tyler, a small-time director on his way to an Evian commercial, an old gem of a camera. Back with Anna, she reveals she is working on a novel/memoir, and Clip opens up to her, revealing a childhood memory that moves her to the core. So poignant is this memory that director Peter Parlow’s movie stops cold, achieving a kind of magic that happens when something pregnant is about to be born.

Back in reality, Anna and Tyler depart the next day, and we see them next summer, yet again making the trek to their (as yet unseen) friend Allison’s upstate home. They are bickering even more so, and this time, it seems things have gone a bit south for them. While she reads a passage by Karl One Knausgard’s book My Struggle, Book 3, she has a double-take. It turns out that the story Clip told her has been lifted, word for word, from this rather obscure passage. How could this be? Anna’s reaction basically intensifies until she’s basically having a meltdown of sorts and making the annoying Tyler look rational as he has to look at her and wonder, and call her out on the fact that she is reacting because she is racist. However, both of them reveal just how racist they are when they jump at the sight of a black man who’s not even aware of them.

When they reach the house the much-mentioned but never seen Allison, Anna continues with her assertions that Clip is a plagiarist. Allison seems a bit unfazed (and vaguely irritated by the whole affair, and the movie really peters into nowhere, to reveal that after the last winter it seems that Anna and Tyler’s luck took a nosedive — she has not yet published her novel; he lost his Evian contract and they had to forfeit a vacation to Costa Rica. Who do they place the blame? On Clip. Yes, all of their misfortunes happened after they left Clip’s house and now, here they are.

Parlow doesn’t neatly resolve this situation, leaving Tyler the odd man out while Allison and Anna bond over better times. Meanwhile, we get what seems to be a flash forward – or flashback? – where Allison’s voice over reads an email she sent Anna. A reveal happens at the very end, which for the sharpest of eyes could be seen a mile away the moment Anna and Tyler, for the umpteenth time, bring the topic of Clip up, and it seems a bit of a cheat not for the audience but for the character itself.

Spoilers:

So it gets revealed that Allison and Clip are a little more than friends, and the blond kid clearly is their son. It is telling that Allison towards the end seems to be fishing for a sperm donor even though she mentions having a boyfriend, when there is a home video of her, the boy, and Clip walking through the woods, happy. Why would she not reveal this to her friends seems to make me believe she is either ashamed she was involved with a black man and chose to leave this brushed under the rug.

I’m not sure I am getting the full gist of the joke of the movie. The Plagiarists is rather for an elite crowd that reads specific articles, believes petty arguments amount to a character building scene, and can identify text lifted from other text. Allison’s email is lifted word for word from an article in the Guardian, which mirrors Clip seemingly lifting a memory from a Norwegian author’s memoirs. Note that Clip states casually he has been to Norway. Could it be possible that Clip did have this experience and the author just happened to get inspired by it? His memory is not like reciting Shakespeare’s famous speech from Hamlet. This is extremely specific, and yes, it has happened where people struck upon the same pool of inspiration — Anna, stupid she, can’t understand that. Tyler later states in his one “redeeming” scene that Anna can’t understand African Americans can also have experiences and education despite “growing poor in the 70s”. The movie has much promise, much potential, but is so frustrating that even when it runs a little under the 75 minute -mark it seems like an uphill battle because it doesn’t know how to get past the roadblock that its heroine herself places due to her own sheltered whiteness.