From a distance, Tampa seems like any other city. Director Frederick Wiseman stays far at first, staring at the occasional tree that peaks through the city’s many skyscrapers. Then, he moves closer. Past closed doors, swing sets and unkept gardens lies domestic violence. Wiseman is patient and uncompromising, letting his camera observe and record the lives of women torn apart by a legacy of abuse. The title of Wiseman’s latest couldn’t be more blunt, which is, of course, the point. Domestic violence is as much a pathology as it is an institution. Wiseman shows little interest in answers because, sadly, there seem to be none. Rather than ruminate on possible solutions, the director structures Domestic Violence as a guided tour through a well-oiled machine. At three hours plus, Wiseman’s latest allows female wounds and tales of survival to say everything that needs to be said about friends and neighbors consumed by relentless cycles of abuse. Observing the many counseling sessions within a women’s shelter, Wiseman exposes the entire psychological spectrum of domestic violence: the fear of leaving home, the desire to castrate the male and, most tragic, the effect this pathology has on the children involved. Domestic Violence is scary, in part, because Wiseman’s omniscient gaze seems so relentlessly nihilistic. Wiseman doesn’t pretend to know the answers, he’s merely concerned with the way things are. Just as he observes skyscrapers and run-down vehicles from afar, he never moves close on the fresh bruises that still sting his subjects’ faces. By letting the women speak, Wiseman participates in their healing process. There may not be safety or answers outside the women’s institute, but, at the very least, Domestic Violence suggests there is a way out.
- Zipporah Films
- 196 min
- Frederick Wiseman
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