The Tall Man (dir. Tony Krawitz, Blackfella Films, 79 minutes)
The Tall Man finds an incredible story, tells it simply and efficiently, but leaves us in a state of discomforting confusion. It is full of so much anger., yet it insists on being as moral and even-handed as possible; we know what the filmmakers believe though they do not insist that we completely agree. They organize a strong case and let us hear it.
One evening in 2004, Palm Island, Australia resident Cameron Doomadgee wandered drunkenly across the path of Sgt. Chris Hurley. An insult was hurled and less than an hour later Doomadgee lay dead on the floor of a police station processing room. The largely aboriginal population of the island exploded in rage, then quickly focused their emotions on finding actual, tangible justice.
Based on testimony from coroners and one witness — a local alcoholic The Tall Man admits could be severely mistaken — Hurley is investigated several times for his alleged assault on Doomadgee, though ultimately cleared. Director Tony Krawitz does not dwell on the obvious institutional racism that let Hurley off the hook, but instead shows us how that racism effects the living. Doomadgee’s family gets as much coverage as the victim himself, bringing hope and empathy to this unfortunate case.
The Tall Man is not a flashy documentary, but the simplicity of style only enhances its emotional impact. An under-the-radar festival highlight. 4.5/5
Carré blanc (dir. Jean-Baptiste Léonetti, SOLAIR Films, 80 minutes)
It’s helpful to know how far along a filmmaker is in their career at any point; take Carré blanc, a science-fiction/psychodrama with a few big problems among many good ideas. Knowing this is the debut of Jean-Baptiste Léonetti should make it easier for viewers to ignore the former and focus on the latter.
Above all else, Léonetti has an incredible eye. His setting, a dystopian yet clean and quiet city, is fully realized and very creepy, even if what goes on inside it never makes a whole lot of sense. In some distant future the human population answers to an unnamed, omnipresent corporate body represented by a logo of interlocking white squares (title translation: “White square.”) That’s pretty much all we know about it, that and it employs Phillipe (Sami Bouajila) whose mother buckled under the pressure of the system and took her own life years ago. And they just might be repurposing civilians as deli meat. One of Léonetti’s most effective choices is to scrub his sets of human clutter; aside from a few apartments and offices most of the city appears to be completely empty of activity.
Its human story suffers, plodding toward an emotional showdown between Phillipe and his wife Marie (Julie Gayet), who despises what the company has turned him into. As characters they fail to raise the stakes of this slow-burning story. Carré blanc features, in the words of my colleague Thom Ernst, “A lot of staring,” and that’s an understatement. Marie and Phillipe never emerge as compelling heroes and are depicted so remotely that Carré blanc threatens to become as cold and lifeless as the tragic future it depicts. Maybe that was the point, but that’s kind of a redundant point. 3/5