'American Fable' is a Gothic Tale of '80s Wisconsin

Jul. 17, 2017
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The protagonist of American Fable, an 11-year old girl called Gitty, is growing up on a Wisconsin farm as the 1980s farm crisis rises to a boil. Ronald Reagan is glimpsed on TV, insisting that government has no business bailing out family farms. Foreclosures are reaching into her family’s remote county. Suicides are on the rise. The endless fields are Gitty’s playground, but the tall green crops cast deep shadows.

The feature debut by writer-director Anne Hamilton invokes the riddling psychology of the Brothers Grimm at several turns. Gitty finds a mysterious man trapped inside a silo, which resembles a fairy tale tower-dungeon. He wants to grant Gitty a wish in exchange for a favor. She repeatedly sees a rider in black on the horizon and that dark seductress turns up at the farm, involving her financially hard-pressed but essentially honest parents in a conspiracy whose outlines are gradually revealed. Gitty’s teenage brother is a dangerous sociopath.

The line between reality and the girl’s imagination—her dream-nightmares and her perception of the unfathomable doings of adults—is never firmly set. The story holds through perceptive acting in the lead roles, especially Peyton Kennedy as shy nerdy Gitty and a brilliantly tricky performance by Richard Schiff as the man in the silo. As the strangely intriguing story unfolds, Schiff’s character is revealed as an agribusiness executive who loves music and Yeats, but is a cog in a destructive machine. The dark seductress represents an unnamed militant force. “It’s about who has control, who has the power,” she tells Giddy when asked if she is a bad person. She is willing to take bad means toward good ends.

Over many nocturnal scenes, a crescent moon sharp as a farmer’s sickle looms overhead as if pasted onto the night sky. American Fable engages the imagination over cultural-political divides that have become more fraught today than in the film’s Reagan-era setting.

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