Saturday, 27 August 2011
“We’re close, but we don’t know what to”
Meek’s Cutoff: directed by Kelly Reichardt; written by John Raymond
Three families are travelling west on the Oregon Trail in the mid 1800s. They’re under the guidance of the brash, rash and potentially racist Meek who has promised a shortcut but seems to have made them all lost and now desperately in need of water and in the midst of this a “wild Indian” appears. Reichardt’s film is a low low key minimalist drama and her attempts to mirror the tedium of the time are obvious. But, I’ve always commented that I feel that cinema is not a medium which bodes well for stringent attempts at replicating the reality. The film’s opening gives us an image of the travellers’ truding through a river. It doesn’t last very long, and yet it seems to go on forever – especially since they seem to be going nowhere. And, really, that beginning tells you everything you need to know about the film.
I’ve noticed that a number of good people seem to have fallen in love with Meek’s Cutoff but I’m not impressed. There’s something impressive in trying to recount the monotony that marked the lives of the travellers and we’ve all probably had moments where our lives were discernible for some tedium. But, for me, Reichardt seems to forget that movies are not meant to be didactic exercises in recounting history devoid of any sort of artistic panache. It’s beautifully shot, but she’s become so stringent in attempting some semblance of realism that there remains little space for narrative technique to enter. It’s effective as an account of what life back then was like, but there’s much more to yearn for than that and ultimately the tedium of the families crosses over into tedium for this audience member. The concept flirts with something seismic, but Reichardt’s insistence in ignoring her characters prevents us from getting there.