Writer-director Andrea Pallaoro’s feature-film debut, Medeas, isn’t especially beholden to plot or dialogue, impressionistically shaping its story through pervasive silence. Set on a sprawling, secluded cattle farm gripped by drought, making ends tough to meet, the story appears to reverberate from its characters’ minds. Christina (Catalina Sandino Moreno), a deaf mute, is married to Ennis (Brían F. O’Byrne), a God-fearing disciplinarian who interacts with her and their four grown children mostly through taped recordings of scripture or heated demands. Pallaoro asks a lot of his actors, particularly Sandino Moreno and O’Byrne, forcing them to illustrate in looks between the unrelenting verbal lulls the signs of a fading marriage. When Christina lies in bed with her eyes open, her husband’s hand dangling over her arm, reaching out as she refuses to reciprocate, Moreno’s vacant look effectively conveys the couple’s sexual discontents. And O’Byrne employs an array of physical tics, like wiping sweat from his balding head during moments of significant stress, and offering painfully searching eyes in ponderous close-ups, that carefully hint at his character’s brewing crack-up. (Ennis brings a television home just to add noise to the monotony of their lives, and one haunting sequence finds him alone on the couch, turning the TV on and off, over and over, as if hearing a voice and trying to quell it.) If Pallaoro falters, it’s in the occasional flashes of heavy symbolism. The title alone invokes the famous Greek tragedy, explicitly foreshadowing the film’s conclusion, and the third-act rainstorm that alleviates the drought strains a bit too hard for bibilical gravitas. Medeas is more successful as an atmospherically intimate story of a family whose fate is written not in the stars, but in its pronounced breakdown of communication, and how unspoken tension gradually accumulates until it’s ready to burst.
- The Vladar Company
- 98 min
- Andrea Pallaoro
- Andrea Pallaoro, Orlando Tirado
- Catalina Sandino Moreno, Brían F. O'Byrne, Mary Mouser, Ian Nelson, Maxim Knight, Jake Vaughn, Kevin Alejandro
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