Treefort Film Fest 2015: ‘Tired Moonlight’ makes small-town life unbearable

 

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Tired Moonlight

Written and directed by Britni West
USA, 2015

Tired Moonlight, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Slamdance 2015, aired at Treefort Film Fest as Filmmaker Magazine’s selection for its Guest Showcase. The film offers a portrait of small-town life in the director’s hometown of Kallispell, Montana as it follows a number of semi-fictionalized characters. A loosely-connected series of vignettes weave in and out of the characters’ lives, all of them blue-collar workers: a motel cleaner, a young grocery store cashier, an elderly Russian woman and her son, and others.

The film initially functions well as it gives a snapshot of blue-collar life. The opening sequence is compelling, as a middle-aged woman casually pulls down her pants and pees next to the road, before grabbing an old photocopier dumped on the curb and carrying it home while advice about how to sell on eBay blasts through her headphones.  It’s a bracing, momentary reminder of the sink-or-swim, endlessly adaptive nature of much lower-income life.

This initial promise quickly falls through, however, as the film mostly eschews both dialogue and narrative, telling its story instead through endless panoramic shots of nature and tracking shots of the characters moving, working, and interacting. This perhaps would have worked in a much shorter film, but at 76 minutes, the lack of any real rising action makes itself felt. The film shifts constantly from character to character, never staying with any too long, which prevents a sense of connection. Among the characters are Dawn, the aforementioned woman who supplements her motel cleaner’s income with eBay sales and storage-auction finds; her daughter, whose relationship with her race car driver boyfriend slowly implodes; and Mike, a video store owner living his dream of owning his own business. Instead of developing these three to four most interesting characters, the film squeezes eight-plus characters into an hour-long film, taking an oddly clinical approach which results in a lack of emotional engagement.

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There are a few scenes of genuine perceptiveness and emotion. A middle-aged man and woman make a fumbling romantic connection while he’s in town for a few days to sort through his deceased mother’s effects. Elsewhere, a man does his elderly mother’s laundry, gently folding her voluminous underwear afterward.

These moments of grace are rare, however. The film’s lack of narrative and energy is punctuated by a dull soundtrack.  Without music to shore up what is a largely visual effort, it begins to feel like a slow-motion trailer with the sound muted. Inexplicable shots of animals on the move – deer and elk – intersperse through the first half.  Voice-overs occur often and bookend the film, mostly consisting of original poetry from cast member Paul Dickinson (some of it good, some bad, but all unrelated to the scenes at hand).

The film takes a slice-of-life approach, but is lacking the sense of wonder so necessary to that genre. Meandering endlessly from scene to scene, moment to moment, it feels interminable, much longer than its hour-plus running time. Tired Moonlight celebrates mundanity, while being unable to escape the curse of being entirely mundane itself.

— Claire Hellar

Treefort Film Fest brought the best in emerging independent cinema to Boise as part of Boise’s yearly Treefort Music Fest (March 25-30 2015).

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