“What kind of story do you want?”
American Fable signals the arrival of an exciting new filmmaker, Anne Hamilton. Having worked as an intern on Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, Hamilton comes out swinging with her feature debut, conjuring up a gorgeous, dreamy modern fairy tale. While the entire narrative isn’t quite up to the task of matching Hamilton’s stunning direction, it gives one hope for the filmmakers future work.
Reminiscent of Pan’s Labyrinth and Beasts of the Southern Wild, American Fable is a glimpse at the real world through the eyes of an imaginative young girl. A mix of magical realism and midwestern folksiness, the film follows 11-year-old Gitty (played perfectly, with quiet introspection, by Peyton Kennedy). Gitty lives on a farm in the 1980s, when farmers were facing a Great Depression-level crisis. Gitty’s kind, down-to-earth father Abe (Kip Pardue) does his best to put on a brave face, but the family farm is in dire straits. What’s a struggling salt-of-the-earth type to do, but kidnap a banker (Richard Schiff) and keep him in an abandoned silo?
Gitty discovers and befriends the captive banker, and the two strike up a strange relationship, where Gitty brings the man gifts while he teachers her to play chess, yet all the while Gitty makes no move to free the man from his imprisonment.
Hamilton peppers the narrative with borderline-supernatural moments representing Gitty’s rich imagination, like a woman sporting a set of horns while riding a black horse. It’s a wonder to behold, but it doesn’t quite add up. One gets the sense that Hamilton, who also wrote the script, is a bit shaky when it comes to story and plot, and is instead content to let the silence tick out; to find the unspoken statements in between the words. In that regard, she seems to have taken a page from Malick.
Cinematographer Wyatt Garfield captures the Midwest landscape magnificently, with shots tinted in a off-yellow haze that recalls the lonely, quiet paintings of Andrew Wyeth. You can get lost in this movie, just as you can looking at a Wyeth piece — gazing at all that land, all that sky, and wondering how many people have crossed that landscape over time.
What American Fable lacks in storyline it more than makes up for with its imagery. You likely won’t be placing this film on your “Best of the Year” list, but I guarantee you’ll be itching to see what Anne Hamilton does next. Here’s hoping the filmmaker has a long, prosperous career to come.