Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Movie Review: October Country

October Country *** ½
Directed By:
Michael Palmeiri & Donal Mosher.

October Country is a frank and honest documentary about a family who seems to make the same mistakes generation after generation. We rarely get to see movies like this, because I think, filmmakers don’t know people like this – and if they did, the people wouldn’t open up to them. But the filmmakers of October Country did in fact get this family to open up – and that’s because it’s directed by one of their own, although curiously, he is never mentioned in the film. October Country is a sad film about one very screwed up family through now four generations.

The oldest members of the family are Donald and Dottie Mosher. Donald was a happy kid, who went off to Vietnam when he was 18, and came back cold and distant. He doesn’t talk about what happened in the war, but he was changed by it forever. Now, he sits around watching as his family goes to hell, and does nothing to prevent it. He seems resigned to his misery. His wife Dottie tries very hard to see the best in everyone, and although she is constantly disappointed, she keeps right on hoping.

Their daughter Donna has been married twice – to two abusive men, and has one daughter from each man – men we never see. The oldest daughter is Daneal, who has followed in her mother’s footsteps in that she chose an abusive husband, had a child too young, and is now on her own. It certainly didn’t help that Donna’s second husband molested her, and is now in jail for it. The ray of sunshine in the family is that younger daughter Desi – who is smart and funny, and although she is full of youthful pride when she claims to be “smarter than the rest of the family” she may not be wrong. Everyone hopes that she’ll break the cycle, and pick a good man, instead of an abusive one. Donna and Daneal seem resigned to the fact that they’ll only ever date assholes.

There are other family members. Donald’s younger sister Denise is not really one of the family. She lives by herself, and spends most of her time wandering in the cemetery trying to get pictures of ghosts and talking about being a Wiccan. Then there is Chris, who Donald and Dottie took in as a foster child, although he warned them that he would hurt them and couldn’t be trusted – and proved to be right. I wonder how the rest of the family feels on Halloween when he shows up with a friend playing a battered wife.

October Country is a curious movie. The family lives in beautiful upstate New York and Mosher – a photographer and Palmieri – his partner and a commercial director – captures the beauty of the area, and offsets this against the seemingly never ending despair of Mosher’s own family. The Mosher talk and talk and talk about their problems – they are not stupid in the least, they understand why they keep screwing up, but are resigned to the fact that they will never break the pattern. This is particularly hard to watch for Daneal – who is still so young, and shows us a softer, more playful side, and seems intelligent. But even though she’s young, she seems to have given up. Although we never meet her abusive husband, we do meet the man who comes after him – and he’s no treasure himself. When he leaves, she swears off men, but in the films last scene, she tells everyone she has another date. She gave her daughter, Ruby, back to her father because she couldn’t take care of her by herself. One hopes that his rage doesn’t extend to his daughter as well. It is Daneal who to me is the real tragic center of this movie. Perhaps forever messed up by her abusive father – who she still idolizes and won’t hear any negative words spoken against him – and her step father, she has resigned herself to a life of misery. Desi is the only hope this family has.

Except of course for Donal himself, whose absence from the film may be considered a flaw. What was it like for him, to grow up homosexual in this family? He presumably got out, and found a healthy partner in Palmieri, but how did he do it? Perhaps, even with all the pain he explores in this film that pain was too personal for him to put on screen. I really don’t know.

October Country doesn’t exploit its subjects – but rather gives them the opportunity to talk about their lives. One cannot help but wonder what they thought of the movie when the saw the completed version. Did it make them cry, did it wake any of them up to the rut they are in?

1 comment:

  1. The movie is less overtly cynical than most reality TV, but it's no less contrived.