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A character study as well as a meditation on communication, creativity, and physical space, Take What You Can Carry is a picture of a young woman seen through the interiors she occupies and... See full summary »
An alienated girl struggles to piece together the events of the previous night over 24 hours in NYC, only to be reminded that nothing is ever as it seems in a city where everyone is a self-made avatar, and violence looms like a halo.
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I'll skip any in depth discussion of formal excellence -- real critics like Roger Ebert and Richard Brody have already said much about that -- and just say that almost every shot, every element of the film is fantastic. Porterfield has a great instinct for composition, for length of shots, for what to focus on and what to leave off the screen. He introduces a few unique elements, including a lot of lingering shots away from prevalent dialogue. The visual style alone is reason to see the film.
But it's not the most important reason. Putty Hill accomplishes something very, very exciting on the level of the heart. In a brief Q&A after the film screened, Porterfield was asked about his decision to shoot the neighborhood and people he did, rather than any of the "shine" that the city of Baltimore has. Porterfield answered that it was part of where he came from, and that he saw it as an ethical responsibility to represent the working class in a moderate, non- sensational light. Much more than something like The Wire (or, say, Winter's Bone, another contemporary film with a similar focus on devastated, poor working class America), Putty Hill does not exploit poor, mostly "white trash" (as one British writer called them) characters, does not sensationalize or wring out their dire situations in hopes of creating great drama. The film is stark and realistic, but the treatment of characters is sympathetic. This is not a film that tries to shock the viewer with a saturation of hyperrealistic details about "what life is like on the other side" of the poverty line: it's not all drugs and violence and grime. Instead, Putty Hill is a film that shows a group of people living their lives just as they know how to. Sure, some things are dark, some things are gritty, some things are sad... but on the other hand these are people, like anybody, with great capacity for love and understanding.
Putty Hill is the greatest current example I have seen of art treating the lives of the working class with both realism and respect. It's not coddling, it's not political, it's not a shock piece. The camera rolls, and what we see is Life, with all of its imperfections, problems, and beauties intact.
When this accomplishment of subject is combined with stunning formal elements, what results is one of the most exciting, important films I've seen in years.
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