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Sunday, June 5, 2011

"Meek's Cutoff", feminine, conceptual, real western

Meek's Cutoff

I watched the film during the first Festival Internacional de Cinema d'Autor held in Barcelona (where it received the Public Award after the open balloting), because despite the movie has been premiered around the world.... but around the world excludes Spain (that doesn't have to do much with piracy, don't you think movie distributors and theaters? why are we forced to watch only commercial crap every single week?)

I was eager to see it because her director, Kelly Reichardt, is responsible of one of the most compelling and brilliant films I have ever seen (something that I couldn't watch on Spanish theaters either), "Wendy and Lucy". A film I can't praise enough.

Movie critics have defined "Meek's Cutoff" as a "feminist western". Is quite easy to see why, but that definition constrains a film that is, at least at the conceptual level, amazingly rich. A history lesson of the United States of America in less than 2 hours. And a lesson of commitment towards cinema as an instrument to say things, to make you think and not just to entertain you. The traditional (orthodox) western, at least to my understanding, was reductionist to the extreme. We had the stereotypical cowboy, always a white male, with supposed virtues like his loneliness and a propensity towards violence, transformed into a seek for justice (easy to see North-american foreign policy still confounds justice with vengeance). Overall, a simple dichotomy between the hero, the cowboy, and the Indian, the villain, creating the false grandeur of that period of history, the colonization of the States.

But instead, in this in transit, domestic western, Reichardt gives us a different perspective. Three couples, guided by a supposedly expert cowboy named Meek towards a promised land crossing the plains of Oregon. But the trip is exhausting, stark, harsh and emotionally draining. They get lost (how many times have you seen the hero getting lost on a western before?, and they desperately need water to survive. As the movie develops, the power on the group shifts towards an anonymous heroin (brilliantly performed by Michelle Williams again) clashing with Meek (traditional macho role) and because of their relationship with "the Other" (won't spoil the film), the other main element of the film, which is the personification of fear.

Reichardt's revisionist take on the western will stimulate more debate than the story itself. Intellectually, or artistically, is an outstanding film, challenging and rich despite, on the surface, simple story. But there are two major concerns that provokes the feeling "'Meek's Cutoff"' is missing something. One is not the slow pace -doesn't help either- but is related to it. In the decision of being as realistic as possible, there's a clear unrealistic fact (don't want to spoil anything) regarding "the Other", that although being said previously on the film, soon is forgotten in order to justify what comes -overlong- after. But even more relevant than that, is the heart of the movie, the most amazing thing on "Wendy and Lucy" that is lacking here. Doesn't compel you or grab you, there's no emotional connection with the characters and that kills the movie, in my opinion. It's the story of a small group trying to survive on extreme and desperate conditions, but the director prefers to win the battle of ideas than the battle of emotions in Meek's Cutoff.

A film of suggestion, conceptually brilliant and risky, but that demands too much from the spectator for the unsatisfactory reward it offers.

SCORE: 6,25/10

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