Green Dir. Sophia Takal

[Factory 25; 2012]

Styles: pastoral psychodrama
Others: Old Joy, A Woman Under the Influence, Gabi on the Roof in July

The attraction of rural America to city-dwelling artists and writers is its purity and freedom, its lushness and antiquated charm. The urban experience is crowded and often stifling, and retreats to the woods and highlands are an annual tradition for the moneyed and mannered. For some in the current generation of creatives and aesthetes, these bucolic settings represent an ulterior lifestyle that is both reactionary and idyllic. If fashion choices have psychological underpinnings, then the popular motif of flannel shirts and coarse beards could be associated with the desire to recreate that definitive image of the masculine outdoorsman. In Green, the debut feature from actress — and now director — Sophia Takal, this new romanticism meets the now-fatigued trend of narrative indifference with a propensity for beauty and sadness, rather than ambivalence and cynicism.

To say that not much happens in Green would be an understatement. It is a short study in slowness, though that’s not necessarily meant as a compliment. Other than a lively introduction to its main characters at a pretentious literary party — where Genevieve (Kate Lyn Sheil) listens as her boyfriend Sebastian (Lawrence Michael Levine) compares a fellow writer to Proust — the story lopes along at a country pace, unconcerned with asserting its purpose.

Genevieve and Sebastian subsequently move out to a house in the hills so Sebastian can focus on writing an article about farming, which in itself is tenuous, because he doesn’t seem to have a thesis other than the fact that farming is hard. On their first day, a young woman named Robin (Sophia Takal) drops by looking for the regular tenant. Robin talks like a yokel who has never crossed county lines, but she’s an attractive foreign object to the intellectual urbanites. Naive and disarmingly friendly, Genevieve warms to her quickly and opens up as they go on walks together and peruse the local flea market. But as Robin begins to befriend Sebastian, Genevieve becomes consumed with jealousy, and her perception of their relationship soon evolves into a waking delusion.

Genevieve’s psychic disintegration is set against a lush forested landscape whose calming splendor serves to juxtapose her paranoia. The mood is deepened by a haunting and suspenseful score that seems out of place in the film’s beatific environs but is perfectly attuned to Genevieve’s state of mind. Between aimless conversations and candid displays of sexuality, Takal demonstrates her main strength as a filmmaker: a visual style with refined composition and wondrous imagery. From that standpoint, she definitely makes the most of her micro-budget. Her characters move in and out of focus with the tenor of the scene, long shots are used effectively, and the surroundings are ethereal. It’s a dreamlike affair, only undermined by the weakness and malaise of its inhabitants.

Essentially a one-act story, Green is dragged down by its own simplicity — most glaringly, Takal’s characterization of Robin. Her Southern drawl is exaggerated and irritating, and her personification as a dimwitted floozy is fully overcooked. As Robin’s foil, Sheil portrays a fragile and wounded girlfriend, but it’s difficult to empathize with her Genevieve, because there aren’t any reasons to do so. For the most part, she’s vacationing on her own volition, and her fear of losing her boyfriend to another woman is hardly worthy of our concern. And if we don’t feel for her, her drama is missing its center.

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