Friday, May 29, 2009

Wendy and Lucy

After reading a review in Film Comment I had wanted to see Wendy and Lucy (2008) while it was at the Pickford, but I missed it sadly. Luckily a friend picked up a copy from the library and passed it along.

From the review I had expected not much to happen during the film, but I am always interested in how 'not much' plays out on the screen. Apparently the director, Kelly Reichardt, pulled a similar move in her last film Old Joy (2006), though I never saw this film. It seems that Reichardt has created a very particular sense of 'not much,' at least in this film. It is very different from Mumblecore films, for example, where we seem to be witnessing time passing as the ordinary events of the characters' lives unfold (Time-Image anyone?). Reichardt's narrative is similar, but instead of focusing on people 'hanging out' and relationships, Wendy and Lucy focuses on the strangely beaurocratic experience Wendy is thrown into as we watch time unfold in a borderline kafkaesque manner.

The film follows Wendy as she is trying to get to Alaska to work in the fisheries, but she gets caught in a small town in Oregon. A series of events result in her waiting for shops to open, filling out paperwork, calling a relative for money (and finding out the relative doesn't have any money), trying to get her car fixed, getting fingerprinted and processed, looking for a place to sleep, repeatedly calling the pound because she doesn't have contact information, and other everyday things that one generally wouldn't think about if they had more than 7 bucks to their name. Throughout all these mundane experiences, the kafkaesque manner in which they are portrayed keeps the movie from being a bore. Almost all the time you feel Wendy's frustration, but there is also a latent dread that follows all of these events (and some genuinely scary events, such as when Wendy is forced to sleep outside and a much less sane homeless person stumbles upon her in the woods).

At times, the the beaurocratic negotiations become almost unreal - when Wendy is caught shoplifting, a young lad starts monologuing to his boss on why Wendy is a terrible person because she has no money (an almost grotesque speech, all in the name of 'equality'). After listening silently, the film cuts to Wendy being arrested. Later, when Wendy is looking for Lucy at the pound, the camera slowly pans accross the kennels with an ominously bassy hum (the louder you turn up your speakers, the more kafkaesque it gets!). At these moments, you have to stop and ask yourself: do these things really happen? Perhaps, but only, the film argues, if you are destitute of course.

There is a clear resolution to the film, which I won't write about here to avoid spoiling it for anyone. But the value of the film, for me, lies in what it renders visible. As Walter Benjamin argued in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, "With the closeup, space expands; with slow motion, movement is extended. The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible, though unclear: it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject." Here, Benjamin describes the power of film to make things that we don't think about, things that are 'invisible' to us, visible. Wendy and Lucy makes visible a particular experience that the average viewer normally wouldn't think about, simply because they don't have to.

I don't have my hands on a copy of the movie right now, but I'll try to get some stills up as well.

EDIT: While talking about this movie, a friend of mine reminded me of the lists (of expenses) Wendy makes throughout the film. This is a significant issue to remember here, because at one point (post shoplifting I believe) we find out that Wendy actually does have the money to buy food, but she shoplifts in order to stick to this plan she has laid out for herself. I don't think this weakens the 'bureaucratic experience' of the film, but it does mean that it is a strange sort of self-imposed bureaucracy - even if this is a bit paradoxical. It does seem to evoke some sort of Deleuzo-Guattarian program as well.

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