"Shotgun Stories": From the Age of Innocence By Andrei Plakhov

in 45th Viennale

by Andrei Plakhov

The program of Viennale suggested several original films interesting from both a political and aesthetical point of view. The FIPRESCI jury discussed the Chinese How Is Your Fish Today? (Jin tian de yu zen me yang?) by Xiaolu Guo and Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind by John Gianvito. Both presented a very personal type of filmmaking, on the edge of feature and documentary, without clear dramatic structure, more closely aligned to poetry rather than the novel. Both tended to be visual reflections of internal reality, of historical memory, of social and philosophical ideas. But the winner Shotgun Stories is a completely different case of cinematographic thinking.

Debutant Jeff Nichols, born in Little Rock, Arkansas, takes inspiration in classical American epos, from William Faulkner to David Wark Griffith. The story of a feud that erupts between two clans of half-brothers following the death of their father is set against the sleepy cotton fields of Southern Arkansas. The film could be named “A History of Violence”, but looks more convincing than David Cronenberg’s parabola. There is nothing abstract in Shotgun Stories and each detail, each supporting character, makes the whole piece of artistic flesh even stronger. The haunting atmosphere of the film owes a lot to the camera of Adam Stone and the soundtrack by Lucero and Pyramid.

The real surprise is not the professionalism of storytelling and other ingredients but the fact that a classical American story looks so fresh and does not suffer from mannerisms of any kind — a typical weakness in today’s cinema. That’s why jury member Michel Ciment compared Jeff Nichols’ feature debut with the early works of Henry King; born in the age of innocence when cinema experienced so many things for the first time. For instance, the violence in Shotgun Stories looks like it was made in the pre-Tarantino era, or even much earlier. The newly-published book “Dynamic of Destruction” by Alan Kramer defines World War I as the cradle of “killing culture” on a mass scale. Jeff Nichols’ film shows a lot of cruelty but its nature is rather archaic because each of the brothers finds a way to protect his own family. The film brings a clear pacifistic message: one of the brothers comes to realize the necessity of ending the feud. It is not just a good will but a logical development of an archetypical story seen from a cultural retrospective.