Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Barking Water: MoMA, May 12 through 17, 2010

Sterlin Harjo's films might be a tough sell to hardcore cinephiles: they tell emotionally direct stories that verge on sentimentalism, and their visuals aren't especially formally ambitious. Still, Harjo is one of the most appealing American directors to come along in recent years, and Barking Water, which premiered at Sundance 2009, is even better than his 2007 debut Four Sheets to the Wind. The personal story, of a dying Native American man (Richard Ray Whitman) who enlists his estranged lover (Casey Camp-Horinek) to help him cross Oklahoma to pay a last visit to family and friends, dovetails beautifully both with the conventions of the road movie and with Harjo's understated vision of a community scattered across space and struggling against its inevitable unraveling. Harjo has a rare knack for weaving fictional and documentary elements together so that the seams are hard to spot: presumably the cast is a mixture of professional and amateur performers, but the fine, effortless lead performances blend so perfectly into the ensemble that it's hard to be sure where acting takes over from existence. Barking Water screens at MoMA six times this week: Wednesday, May 12 at 6:30 pm; Thursday, May 13 at 4:30 pm; Friday, May 14 at 7:00 pm; Saturday, May 15 at 2:00 pm; Sunday, May 16 at 2:30 pm; and Monday, May 17 at 4:30 pm.

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