Haunted House: Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher’s “October Country”

by robbiefreeling
February 9, 2010 10:57 AM
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The type of introspective, intimate domestic American nonfiction that has sprouted up so much in art-house theaters in the wake of the success of Capturing the Friedmans has come to typify documentary filmmaking of the past decade. Itself somewhat of an acolyte of the far more sensitive Crumb, which at least foregrounded its inevitable grotesquerie, Andrew Jarecki’s sensational depiction of an upper-middle-class Jewish family torn apart by intimations of child molestation tried to pass off its essentially exploitative nature as an investigation into American suburbia. Plus, with its tacked-on faux reconciliation ending and lack of aesthetic engagement, the film played as more of a very special 20/20 episode. Filmmakers Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher correct Jarecki’s inelegance with their surprisingly stirring new film October Country, a visually remarkable and thematically unpretentious peek behind the doors of one upstate New York family.

The fact that the clan in question is that of co-director and photographer Mosher makes October Country much less patronizing than it might have been, as well as situates it somewhere in the high end of the subgenre of personal diary films (think Jonathan Caouette’s Tarnation). Mosher, however, does not make himself a character. Instead he surveys with detached beauty and expressive melancholy all the other members of the working-class family, creating a multigenerational portrait of cycles of disappointment and frustration. There’s no one dreaded event lying at the heart of the film, which instead casually captures twelve months in the Moshers’ existence, from one Halloween to the next, through interviews and voice-over touching upon the years of custody battles, abandonment, financial woes, and war scars the family has endured. Rather than trumping up any of this as uncommon tragedy, October Country pensively takes them as givens. Read Michael Koresky's review of October Country.

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