Thursday, January 31, 2019

Sundance with Abe: Judy and Punch

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the sixth time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can.

Judy and Punch
Directed by Mirrah Foulkes
World Cinema Dramatic Competition

Throughout history, there is an unfortunate tradition of men manipulating and subjugating women, particularly husbands mistreating their wives. Shared successes may be trumpeted as merely the man’s achievement, and rarely did the woman get any credit for her contributions as well as her likely ability and expectation to handle more as expected head of the household. Some of these relationships can still be filled with love and positivity, even if they’re hardly an emblem of quality, while others include substantial abuse and frequent demeaning of the spouse that those not intricately involved in the relationship may not be able to see.

Punch (Damon Herriman) and Judy (Mia Wasikowska) perform a tremendous puppet show together, wowing their audience but not collecting nearly enough funds to recover from what they’ve lost as a result of Punch’s proclivity for alcohol. Punch loves the spotlight and earns all the praise, yet he finds himself so unable to function at home when his wife leaves for an hour that he chases after his dog with their baby in his arms, ultimately tripping and losing his grip. When Judy returns home, Punch brushes off the horrific accident, and proceeds to nearly beat his wife to death for daring to blame him. Thinking she is dead, he brings her body to the woods and finds a scapegoat while she recovers with the help of a band of outcasts perceived by the townspeople as witches.

This Australian film presents itself as set in Seaside, a small town nowhere near the sea, and casts its villagers as eager to satisfy their boredom with frequent executions of witches and other alleged deplorable elements. Punch latches on to this enthusiasm to ensure that he will never be suspected of a crime, whereas Judy is far more open to the idea of accepting other people and finds unexpected friendship in the woods. The puppet show serves as a clever suit of armor for Punch, who finds himself helpless to put on the show without his brilliant wife present when talent scouts arrive.

Wasikowska is a wondrously talented actress and carries this film very well as the determined woman so immediately disgusted with her husband’s almost willful incompetence. Herriman, a hilarious recurring guest on “Justified,” makes Punch as despicable as possible, wholly aware of his audience and desperate both to please and to be applauded. This film’s score helps set its strange but effective tone, approaching fantasy yet firmly grounded in all-too-human tendencies, crafting an original story with a decidedly clever approach.


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