The story of Medea, a Greek tragedy by Euripides, tells of the titular character and her suitor, Jason, who are torn apart by deceit when Jason decides to seek the company of another. When Medea learns of his transgressions, she retaliates by murdering all of their sons. Often considered one of the most controversial plays of all time, Andrea Pallaora’s film, Medeas, attempts to update the classic story in the analog-era American Southwest, focusing on a family consisting of patriarch Ennis (Brian O’Byrne), a cattle farmer; his young and deaf immigrant wife Christina (Catalina Sandino Moreno); and their five children.
In the midst of a local drought, breadwinner Ennis finds himself at a crossroads, struggling to support his family of seven. His wife, on the other hand, has made herself comfortable in an affair with a nearby gas station attendant (Kevin Alejandro), going as far as making her kids wait outside his trailer for hours while they make passionate love inside. Their oldest daughter, Ruth (Mary Mouser), is engaging in an affair of her own with a local boy, putting on makeup and changing into more revealing clothing before going out for regular make-out sessions in the distant desert landscape.
Told with minimal dialogue and even less exposition, Andrea Pallaora’s debut feature is a lyrical, smooth, and gorgeous film that, unfortunately, isn’t nearly as profound as it wants to be. Lit, framed, and performed to absolute perfection – I can’t tell which is better: Chayse Irvin’s 35mm photography or the performances, both individually and as an ensemble, of the entire cast – Medeas marks what is possibly the height of an emerging trend in independent filmmaking. Pallaora’s picture is less of a film than it is a vaguely coherent collection of images that give off the notion of artistic profundity. It’s arguably the best to do it in quite some time, but, like many other of a similar ilk, Pallaora seems to be under the impression that because his film looks good, it is good.
Thankfully, it is. It simply cannot be overstated how gorgeous this movie is to look at, and how beautiful the performances are in it. Pallaora does right by not saddling his script with an abundance of exposition or dialogue, to the point where there are approximately 150 words spoken in the entire film. However, this nearly silent feature rarely feels like it’s missing a reel, and Pallaora’s ability as a visual filmmaker sets him further along than many of his young contemporaries.
His ability to tap into the Southwestern domestic tragedy that so many families find themselves in is nothing short of brilliant, mostly because of Brian O’Byrne’s commanding turn as a loving but hot-tempered patriarch. In one scene, we see Ennis as he ventures out to a nearby cantina for a late night drink, convinced by a woman to dance with her on a floor drenched by red light.
That, and the shot that follows, a view of Ennis as he disappears into the dark mountain range while walking home during sunset, is one of the most hauntingly beautiful sequences committed to celluloid in some time. If and when Pallaora gets more control over his implementation of thematic depth, he will surely be an unstoppable force. He’s already one of the better filmmakers to debut in recent years, but, if Medeas is any indication, he has the ability to become one of the best directors working today.Continue Reading Issue #35
January 16, 2014 (NY & LA)
1 hr. 37 min.
Catalina Sandino Moreno, Brian O’Byrne, Mary Mouser, Ian Nelson, Maxim Night, Jake Vaughn, Kevin Alejandro