Tribeca: Rural-Noir Beneath the Harvest Sky Wears Us Down, But Sean Gullette’s Traitors Is Alive With Scuzzy Energy
Beneath the Harvest Sky
That old familiar damp-backwoods-gray-skies indie ominousness is peddled to little effect by Beneath the Harvest Sky, a film whose title is more evocative than either its portentous mood or its coming-of-age drama. Lurking around the edges of Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly’s picture is a subtly unsettling, nuanced performance by The Wire and Game of Thrones great Aidan Gillen as a ne’er-do-well dad named Clayton who’s illegally transporting prescription pills across the Maine-Canada border.
Unfortunately, Gillen’s subplot is largely just a device designed to get the plot to a third-act tragedy involving Clayton’s roughneck son Casper (Emory Cohen) and Casper’s straight-and-narrow friend Dominic (Callan McAuliffe). Caspar is motivated to stay put – especially once his girlfriend says she’s pregnant – while Dominic dreams of ditching town for Boston. Those conflicting future plans are merely one of the story’s many narrative focal points, as Beneath the Harvest Sky also involves other cousins, girlfriends and cops whose perfunctory presence overstuffs a film that ultimately comes across like the formulaic stepson of Frozen River, Winter’s Bone, and countless other rundown-rural-community character studies.
Also at Tribeca, Sean Gullette’s Traitors operates according to a standard drug-smuggling-drama template, though it colors its familiar elements with just enough distinctive personality to allow it to stand on its own. Pi actor-turned-director Gullette’s feature debut has a fleet pace and skuzzy-roughneck energy that matches the punk rock music of Traitors, an all-girl band in Tangiers whose frontwoman, Malika (Chaimae Ben Acha), agrees to drive a car full of hash through security checkpoints for money that will allow her to record her band’s demo.
While an overly optimistic ending somewhat sabotages the film’s air of realism, Gullette shrewdly colors his tale with stinging commentary about Middle East sexism while also eliciting a commanding lead performance from Chaimae Ben Acha. Her head down and her eyes wide, Acha exudes both an anxious fear and fierce sense of purpose in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Even when her story devolves into hopeful fantasy, she remains a potent figure of youthful anti-tyrannical rebellion.
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