Sunday, May 12, 2019

Tribeca with Abe: American Woman

I’ve had the pleasure this year of screening a number of selections from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which ran April 24th – May 5th.

American Woman
Directed by Semi Chellas
Spotlight Narrative

Fighting against the government isn’t always a clear-cut operation. When an army of some sort rises up to combat the establishment, it might be termed a civil war or a revolution. When there isn’t an official conflict, the legality of certain actions may exist in a gray area, with the repercussions more questionable due to changing political parties and new definitions of what constitutes a crime. There are many examples throughout history of this, and the motivations and allegiances of those on the less popular or less powerful side can be open to interpretation.

Jenny (Hong Chau) has been laying low after making bombs as an act of protest against the American government, and is lured back into her former life when she reluctantly agrees to look after three fugitives. She meets Pauline (Sarah Gadon), an heiress who has been kidnapped by Juan (John Gallagher Jr.) and Yvonne (Lola Kirke) and alleged by news media to have been radicalized herself while in captivity. Jenny tries to keep the hot-tempered Juan in check and to understand whether Pauline is indeed a prisoner or a willing participant, all while trying to keep them from being discovered and captured by law enforcement eager to put them all behind bars.

This narrative takes its inspiration from the real-life case of Patty Hearst, who was abducted by a domestic terrorist group in the 1970s and suspected of having been involved in perpetrating their anti-government activity. This fictionalized story targets the emotions and true aims of its characters, particularly Jenny and Pauline. Jenny is concerned most with the safety and security of herself and those around her, while Pauline is soft-spoken and careful not to incite violent aggression from Juan, who continues to demean her despite her apparent complicity in their cause. While much is still left unexplained, this exploration does navigate intriguing questions.

Chau, who delivered a standout performance in “Downsizing,” also stars in another Tribeca film this year, “Driveways,” which allows her to be more energetic and three-dimensional. Here, she plays her part decently, but commendation should go most to Gadon, from “11/22/63,” whose quiet, reserved turn is extremely effective, and Gallagher Jr. from “The Newsroom” and “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” playing a far less gentle part than usual. This film tells an interesting story, though it’s not the best recent representation of domestic terrorism – check out “The East” for a more compelling and well-rounded approach.


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