Saturday, June 11, 2011

MEEK'S CUTOFF (Kelly Reichardt, 2010)

A stark, prickly neo-Western that does for Pioneer wagon trains what McCabe and Mrs. Miller did for Pioneer whorehouses: strips the romance and idealism, punches in on the uncertainty, the dehydration and the harsh, relentless landscape that stretches on and on and on.

The narrative is never really resolved, because the narrative isn't the point. Kelly Reichardt's idea here is to immerse you into, then gradually pick apart the mindset that still defines a foundational patch of American history. She dissects the blind, institutionalised optimism and the crude dynamics that most likely defined what history has since whitewashed into 'the Pioneer spirit'.

The Native American - with a characteristic lack of fuss, credited only as 'The Indian' - is neither the noble nor ignoble savage but an ordinary, earthy man with his own equally straightforward self interests. He is enigmatic only insofar as the Pioneers themselves insist to endow him with murky motives and legends. If anything, the filthy, bearded man who has been ostensibly guiding the Pioneers throughout the dire six-week slog - that was meant to last two weeks - seems just as enigmatic and unnerving.

This inscrutable oddity, in many ways the anti-Stagecoach, is too idiosyncratic even to be pitched into the 'revisionist' bucket. The preternaturally gifted Reichardt chooses to present it in the long abandoned 'Academy' ratio (which has been out of fashion since approximately the 50s). Particularly in light of its focus on [wo]Man dwarfed by dumb, unimaginably vast Nature, you would expect majestic, imposing Widescreen vistas. But nothing in this film says that Reichardt gives a flying fuck about what you expect.

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