by Howard Schumann
Based on a short story by O. Henry prize-winning author
Tom McNeal, Tully, by first-time director Hilary Birmingham,
is a subtle portrait, set in a sleepy farm community somewhere in Nebraska,
of a family whose past shows up without warning, shattering the trust
and unity that had been built over the years. Originally called The
Truth About Tully, the film won praise at the 2000 Toronto Film
Festival, but lost several distributors to bankruptcy and had to wait
two years until it achieved a limited release last November. Its current
release on DVD gives us a chance to see what we've missed.
Tully Coates, Sr. (Bob Burrus) mourns the death of his wife while struggling
to raise two sons and keep up his farm. Coates keeps a lid on his feelings,
and no one suspects the powerful secrets he has hidden. Burrus is perfect
as the weathered old farmer who has forgotten how to enjoy life and
only smiles at Claire (Natalie Canerday), the clerk at the local convenience
store. His two sons are very different, but both are good hearted. Tully
Jr. (Anson Mount) is a macho ladies' man who seems unwilling to make
commitments, content to skim along on the surface of life. His brother
Earl (Glenn Fitzgerald) is withdrawn and shy with girls, a movie buff
who spends his days going to the cinema or preparing his steer for the
this mix comes Ella Smalley (Julianne Nicholson), just home from college
to do an internship as a veterinarian in a local hospital. She hangs
out with Earl, but wants to be friends with Tully. Nicholson's performance
is amazing, bringing an intense authenticity to her role. Tully, meanwhile,
is pursuing April (Catherine Kellner), a stripper who refers to what
she does as burlesque but senses the possibility of something more than
friendship with Ella.
is not much dialogue, but the action does not require much. When feelings
become troublesome, each escapes to their own place where they can be
alone. Ella goes to a swimming hole, Earl goes to the movies, and the
father parks his truck and downs a six-pack. When bits and pieces of
a family secret begin to be revealed and the farm is threatened with
foreclosure, events force Tully to face the realities that the term
"coming-of-age" implies. The film moves at a languid pace for most of
the time but builds toward an emotional climax, as the lazy summer is
jarred by an unexpected event, changing lives forever.
people in Tully are not the small town yokels of movie clichés.
They are smart and sensitive, and not the least bit cool or cynical.
Probably too wholesome for many who prefer their role models to be a
bit more jaded, these people talk to each other with dignity and respect,
and I cared about them. In lesser hands, Tully could have become
the stuff of soap opera, yet guided by Birmingham's sure direction,
it goes straight to the heart.
don't hear much about Swiss film, but Alain Tanner (La Salamandre,
Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the year 2000) was once the brightest
light in the New Swiss Cinema, a movement that owed its allegiance to
Brecht, Bresson, and the French New Wave. Considered one of the best
of his later works, Messidor (1979) is an original, unpredictable,
and disturbing film about two alienated young women in search of freedom
from society. The film, in its poetic sweep, is reminiscent of Terrence
Malick's Badlands and could have been a prototype for Thelma
girls, Jeanne (Clémentine Amouroux), a history student from Geneva,
and Marie (Catherine Rétoré), a store clerk from Moudon
in France, go on the road together with very little money and no specific
destination. Without context or structure to their lives, they invent
a game of trying to see who can survive the longest without money, and
the result is self-destructive. The girls come from very different backgrounds,
but seem to be attracted to each other and share a feeling of alienation.
They meet while hitchhiking. Jeanne says she is trying to escape from
the noise of the city, while Marie is returning home after visiting
her father in Lausanne. We learn nothing about their lives before they
meet; parents, friends, or school are barely mentioned. When Marie invites
Jeanne to go on a ten-mile walk to her home, they decide to sleep in
the woods. The next morning, instead of going home, they embark on a
hitchhiking odyssey through the Swiss countryside.
repetition of car rides with their meaningless conversations, contrasted
with the lovely Swiss village and alpine scenery, the film conveys the
impression that we are all in a dreamlike state of "walking going nowhere"
on a landscape that has surface beauty but no real substance. Their
adventure turns grim when Marie smashes a rock into the side of the
head of an assailant to thwart an attempted rape. To protect themselves
in the future, they steal a gun from the glove compartment of a Swiss
Army officer. When Marie asks, "Where are we headed"? Jeanne replies,
"The usual: straight-ahead." To no apparent end they go straight ahead,
engaging in haphazard, unmotivated acts that defy society's rules. They
have sex together, sleep in barns, steal food, panhandle, and threaten
people with their gun. Soon, their description is broadcast on a popular
TV program. When they realize that the police are pursuing them, their
quest takes on an air of quiet desperation.
Messidor is a haunting personal film that authentically
captures a mood of ennui. What was their life really about? Their conversation
offers few insights, and it is not clear whether or not Tanner regards
his protagonists with scorn or is simply saying that if you want to
live outside of society's rules, you must understand the limits of freedom.
When asked what their game is, Jeanne declares, "It is moving through
empty spaces." "All people look alike," she says, "as if they didn't
really exist." When the girls arrive in a typical Swiss village they
sit in a park and look at people passing. Marie asks, "What do these
people do? Where are they going? We'll never know. That's what's so
maddening. We'll never know." What led these two intelligent young women
to undertake a self-destructive odyssey? Since they hardly talk about
their lives, their thoughts or their feelings, we'll never know. That's
what's maddening. We'll never know.
©2003 Howard Schumann