"Medeas" directed by Andrea Pallaoro is a somber look at a family who live on a farm near the Angeles National Forest. It is part of the Horizons category at the Venice Film Festival (Aug 28- Sept 7), now in its nine day, and screened September 4. It should be a strong contender for best film within its division.
Ranches and the ghost town of Metryville are the scenic location sites of the film in Santa Clarita. Among the ranches is Newhall Ranch, an area where land investors are strongly opposed for trying to build expensive homes on Native American land. Some of Medeas is shot on two movie sets: Big Sky Ranch in Simi Valley , home to westerns such as “Rawhide”, “Little House on the Prairie” and “Gunsmoke” and Blue Cloud Ranch in Santa Clarita for productions such as JAG, Fear Factory and CSI productions.
Location is everything to "Medeas" since it commands the lionshare of visual attention. Ennis (Brían F. O'Byrne) is a bovine rancher down on his luck, not just because of a drought but because the sense of the film is that the area has been prey to larger economic forces. His younger wife Christina who is mute (Catalina Sandino Moreno) is no longer interested in him and is having an affair with the filling station mechanic Noah (Kevin Alejandro). Cradled within this triangle are five children ranging in age from infant to teens.
Pallaoro and Orlando Tirado wrote the script for "Medeas" but there is not much dialogue to this primarily visual film. Almost ever scene is created and perfectly executed with a consistent and artistic composition of the frame. There are scenes framed between doorways, through mirrors and using shadows. A gentle breeze circulates and oxygenates the narrative.
There is also a tactile, sensual touch to "Medeas" with the refreshing absence of lengthy dialogue. Feelings are often conveyed not spoken. The infant learns this unspoken language when he tugs at his father’s beard or touches the wet nose of a baby calf. Sounds of the wind blowing through the hills, the flutter of birds, the chorus of cows lined up for dining and the old red pickup truck crunching gravel on dirt roads add to the sensory impact of the film. Christina blows soft air at Ennis’s eye to liberate a foreign particle; his daughter uses the tips of her long brown hair.
The children - Micah (Ian Nelson), Ruth (Mary Mouser), and Jacob (Maxim knight) (and infant) complement each other and are shown in carefully thought out scenes praying for rain, aiming a rifle, picking tumbleweed, and singing to music while wearing headphones.
The technical crew also stands out together with the location of the film. Overall, the rich art direction is exquisite and intoxicating. Chase Irvin is behind the camera capturing the visual compositions of production designer Matt Hyland, art designer Rae Deslich, set decorator Caity Birmingham and set dresser Vanes Lin. Editors Arndt Peemoeller and Issac Hagy have assembled Irvin’s shots into a masterly document. All of this craftsmanship is under the watchful eye of director Andrea Pallaoro, an Italian filmmaker educated at the California Institute of the Art who resides in California.
The title of the film, "Medeas", evokes the namesake of a Greek mythic tragedy where a mother kills her children but Pallaoro’s film is far from over simplistic. While five children sway in a precarious balance between parents with conflicting carnal desire they are surrounded by numerous instances of the beauty of life in motion, experiencing almost infinite sounds and touches of an earnest existence. Everything that happens to them and by them is done without an omniscient narrator.