The film opens with a large happy family bathing in a lake, in some remote rural part of the United States. It is a hallmark picture of happiness, family life and isolation from the postindustrial society gone astray.
Little by little we begin to see the cracks in the wall: the daughter is sneaking off to see her boyfriend, the father is an authoritarian figure and he clashes with his older son, his business is going bad and his beautiful wife is cheating on him. These invisible signs of decay of the home are mimicked by very material, almost imperceptible signs of decay in the house: real cracks in the wall and bits of paint peeling of the woodwork, details that fit so perfectly with the clean, austere, simple and luminous house.
At the same time they tell the age old story of “nothing lasts”, they remind the viewer that good things come in frames: always limited. The house was once new, freshly painted; their happiness was once real (the bathing scene is filmed, also captured in a frame). There are also the more ominous cracks in the ground, coming from the lack of rain. Everybody is waiting for the rain, the children even do a rain dance, and somehow you know that the rain is going to come and is going to come down hard, because there is a storm brewing inside this family.
Now, the real magic that should be noted here is this: the film manages to show these changes, both material and within the soul of the characters, in a very slow manner, with as little violence as possible. Violence in the broadest sense, violence as movement, as opposed to the stillness of a single moment in time, the stillness of something that is contained within a frame. Why is this magic? For two reasons. First reason is the very good cinematography, MEDEAS works perfectly as a visual poem (credit goes to cinematographer Chayse Irvin). Second, because you know something is happening, you can sense the members of the family growing apart, you can sense the static electricity building and you brace yourself for the storm; but at the same time, nothing really happens, that is to say, nothing in the classic narrative frame of cause and effect. And this is a great feat of cinematic artistry, coming from a debutant director, no less.
That is why the word poem seems to fit so well, because the understanding of the situation is more somatic than cerebral. At the same time, everything makes sense. You don’t see the actual storm (you do feel it), but the outcome matches the premise, the director just made a choice not to show the road between them. The rain falls softly on the windows of the family truck and once again, the camera lingers over the peaceful, happy faces of the members of this family. It might as well be put in a frame, like any other happy memory.
MEDEAS, r. Andrea Pallaoro, 2013
by Andrei Șendrea