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A single mother and her embattled son struggle to subsist in a small Mississippi Delta township. An act of violence thrusts them into the world of an emotionally devastated highway store owner, awakening the fury of a bitter and longstanding conflict.Written by
Conveys a sense of immediacy that gathers momentum as the film progresses
Winner of cinematography and director awards at the Sundance Film Festival and nominated for the Jury Prize at Sundance and Berlin, Lance Hammer's Ballast is an American original. Performed by non-professional actors and shot with a hand-held camera, the film looks at the lives of three distraught people in the Mississippi Delta, conveying with passion their ability to discover their own humanity and transcend the circumstances of their life. Using only the ambient sounds of nature, and portraying events in an elliptical manner that forces us to fill in the blanks, Ballast is reminiscent of the minimalist masterpieces of the Dardennes' and Charles Burnett, but has a unique rhythm all its own.
Shot on 35 mm along the Mississippi Delta, it is a film that quickly establishes mood and suspense and creates an emotional range that travels from anger and sadness to hope and joy. As the film opens, 12 year-old James (JimMyron Ross) chases a flock of birds in an open cotton field during the winter. The camera then shifts to a distraught man, Lawrence (Michael J. Smith, Sr.) sitting alone in his living room in the house next to his sister-in-law, Marlee (Tarra Riggs). The man is paralyzed with depression and unable to communicate due to the death of his brother Darius who, as discovered by a neighbor John (Johnny McPhail), has died in his bed of a self-inflicted overdose. Sullenly, Lawrence responds to the tragedy by going outside and shooting himself in the lungs. Rushed to the hospital, he is badly wounded but recovers after several weeks in the hospital.
In trouble with dope dealers, young James keeps his working mother from discovering that he owes $100 for crack cocaine, but it is revealed when James' TV is taken by the gang and both mother and son are assaulted in their cars. James, who owns a scooter, rides to Lawrence's place and demands his father's money at gunpoint. Things seem to hit rock bottom when Marlee is fired from her job cleaning toilets and Lawrence, still in shock, is unable to reopen his small food market. With nowhere to go but up, the three begin a long process of discovery of their indelible connection to life and to each other.
Unfolding like a documentary, Ballast conveys a sense of immediacy and a lyricism that gathers momentum as the film progresses. Accents are difficult to fathom (the film wisely provides English subtitles), yet there is a naturalism and authenticity here that keeps us engaged throughout. While none of the actors have ever acted before, you would not know it from the power of their performances, especially from Tarra Riggs and young Ross. It is a film, however, that definitely requires patience from the viewer. There are no markers to tell us what we are supposed to feel about the people we see on the screen, yet we remain tuned in to their struggles as if they were our own and in many respects they are. As they discover that who they are is larger than their circumstances, we discover a similar truth in our own life.
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