Film

Worth Your Time: Celia Rowlson-Hall’s Silent Update On the Nativity Story, With Vegas as Bethlehem

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The notion of watching a movie with no dialogue about a modern-day Virgin Mary walking across the desert to Las Vegas may sound like pure hell, so it’s at least a minor triumph that MA isn’t. Sure, the feature directorial debut of actor/choreographer Celia Rowlson-Hall will probably have a longer life on film-school curricula than in any theater or home collection, but it’s audacious enough to warrant attention now.

There is a narrative, of sorts, but it’s up to you to figure it out, as the title character (Hall) takes in the gas stations, motel rooms, convenience stores and weird TV channels one might find on a road trip through the Southwest. She hitches a ride on the windshield of a random motorist, whom the credits tell us is named Daniel (Andrew Pastides), traveling with him for a time and engaging in chaste bedroom play. They build pillow forts; she jumps on the bed; he beats his chest like a gorilla and then secretly beats off in the car. She’s haunted by memories of possible gang rape, and sand is everywhere: not just outside, but coming out of paintings, faucets and doorsteps. The cast contort their bodies, as editing and camera movements are as expertly choreographed as the humans.

Morally speaking, is a Las Vegas suite a modern-day stable? Does being emotionally detached make this Mary immaculate? Or is this all just the kind of stream-of-consciousness imagining someone might do while looking at the landscape on a road trip? I’m not sure there’s any way to know, but it’s fun to guess.

MA

Written and directed by Celia Rowlson-Hall

Factory 25

Opens January 13, IFC Center

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