25 December 2010

Sweetgrass (Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, 2010)

Sweetgrass is a documentary about a sheep ranch in Montana. From the 19th century until about 2003, if I'm remembering correctly, ranchers would take their livestock to graze in the mountains during the summer. The film starts off with the most enchanting, beguiling, and sometimes gently disturbing series of episodes in which the sheep are the central characters. The people almost seem like machines and there's something uncannily reminiscent of a Holocaust film in some way. I thought that might be me reading something into it because I just spent a semester contemplating the Holocaust but my boyfriend said he was thinking the same thing. As the film progresses the perspective gradually shifts to the men of the ranch. This is done pretty craftily but I have to say that the film kind of lost me by the time this shift was complete. Part of me this morning, the morning after, wonders if it might have hit kind of close to home since those are the sort of unintelligible, emotionally immature salt of the earth types that to some extent populated my early years. I kind of wish the filmmakers had included less footage of the guy's lunatic rampages. I think it crosses the boundary from pathos to pathetic and that's unfortunate because if the characters didn't devolve into such infantile wretches there might have been more weight to the yearning towards the comfort of modernity that seemed to propel their discontent. I mean, I guess it's sort of a real life version of that Marilyn Monroe film, The Misfits inasmuch as it's about people who have been passed by by the world's progress. It's really sad in this case because what's modern is likely much more barbaric than the primitive. I'm happy this wasn't any sort of dumbed down IMAX nonsense like March of the Penguins or something but I guess I was hoping for something more. Or less. C+

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