An aspiring filmmaker makes her first film about the career of an unnamed mid-century actress.
Directed by Cheryl Dunye
Starring Cheryl Dunye, Guinevere Turner, and Valarie Walker
Review by Jon Kissel
I volunteer as a screener for the Atlanta Film Festival, and while I’m happy to do it, it does mean watching a lot of bad movies. Bad has a wide spectrum, ranging from incompetently made to unoriginal or indulgent. That last one is the most irritating, as it speaks to a fundamental mismatch between the filmmaker’s perception of themselves and the fact that they’re paying an organization to let them show their movie to other people. Some part of me admires the chutzpah on an indulgent festival applicant, even if their film is not up to snuff. This leads us to The Watermelon Woman, a film that instantly evoked the mental effort required to watch a bad screener and try to come up with something positive to say about it. Cheryl Dunye’s debut indie is politically ahead of its time, as representation has been all the rage in film circles for at least the last decade, but that’s not worth much when it’s simultaneously struggling to piece a coherent scene together.
The earliest non-dream-sequence shot in Kasi Lemmons’ debut Eve’s Bayou is of a big white plantation house nestled amongst swamp willows and lazy rivers slowly coming into frame. There are few better symbols of American cruelty and exploitation than a big Southern estate, meticulously curated and appointed but undergirded by enslavement and dehumanization a short distance from the front porch. This iconic image is the last time white people are going to be evoked in the entire film, as the house is owned by a Black doctor who operates in a town with only Black citizens. The people of Eve’s Bayou are cocooned in their racially homogenous world, which allows Lemmons to tell their story without dramatic boosts from racism or discrimination. An original story by Lemmons, Eve’s Bayou turns race into a non-factor and focuses on the plentiful melodrama within her Creole concoction.
Shakespeare’s tale of paranoia and guilt gets a stylized adaptation in Justin Kurzel’s MacBeth. The Australian director, when he’s not doing the ultimate one-for-them with an Assassin’s Creed adaptation, is fascinated by contemporary monsters, as evidenced by his debut feature The Snowtown Murders about a serial killer and his latest, Nitram, about the Port Arthur mass shooting. In between, Kurzel made True History of the Kelly Gang, a period piece that both lionizes and undermines a 19th century Australian outlaw. Kurzel’s twin interests in violent extremity and curiosity about the people who commit those kinds of crimes make him well-suited for Macbeth, a play about an ostensibly good man who turns into a tyrant without much convincing. Starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard at high points of their respective careers, Kurzel’s Macbeth has all the ingredients for a top-notch adaptation.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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