A blog about movies and filmmaking.

The Beautifully Simple World Of GAIA

In drama on July 30, 2010 at 3:57 pm

I saw a movie last night, that is currently not setup for distribution, but is still making the rounds at film festivals and special screenings. It’s a beautifully shot movie by cinematographer turned writer/director Jason Lehel. And is bound to leave you thinking about life, death, and just how we deal with the situations that we go through.

It’s hard to really explain beyond the simple idea of a girl that is left in the desert after being sexually assaulted; who is then found and housed by a group of Native Americans. The story follows the girl (played magnificently by Emily Lape) – whose name is credited as Gaia, but I don’t know that I actually heard her called that in the movie – as she spends her time getting acquainted with and being accepted into the family of Ed (played by Ed Mendoza), his grand-daughter, Jerica (played by Jerica Mendoza). She spends a lot of time sleeping, and dreaming of the multiple abuses and tragedies she’s gone through in her life; and the rest of her time trying to fit in with her new family and going through the stages of coping and healing from her wounds.

The movie is very light on dialogue, and instead focuses more on landscape and just following these people (kind of hard to call them characters) around as they go through their lives. There’s a great moment where Ed, has gone to see his old Uncle and wants to talk about Jerica, but the Uncle just wants a beer. It’s great, and real. There’s also another character who is deaf, that draws the attention of Gaia, and some interesting situations develop between the two as she tries – and mostly fails – to communicate with him, using the manipulative and nearly abusive ideals that she’s used to.

But it does suffer from a non-linear structure that dreamily goes back and forth from the present to multiple episodes through her life where she’s been abused or traumatized. It’s all beautifully put together and as a whole feels more dream-like than anything in INCEPTION. The structure though, just keeps you off-balance – which I guess isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

While it does move slowly, it’s never boring, just because you’re not quite sure what to expect next. Not to say that the movie is wholly original, as there are shades of many other movies throughout. There’s the meandering, and desert locale similar to Gus Van Sant’s GERRY; the rehabilitation of an abused, young woman from an older man a la Craig Brewer’s BLACK SNAKE MOAN; and yes, there’s even moments of “indian mysticism” saving the poor white person’s soul – as seen in various movies from THUNDERHEART to DANCES WITH WOLVES and even AVATAR to an extent. Although, what sets GAIA apart in that last respect, is that it doesn’t spend the rest of the movie painting these people with any kind of broad strokes; they’re not all magical beings with peace pipes and wampum (I only know that word from Disney’s PETER PAN, I think); nor are they all poor, drunken savages. They’re just people, who have rituals and ceremonies like every other white, black, brown or green person.

And it’s one of these rituals, which has left the most indelible mark on me – but when word starts getting out about the movie, could turn it into a controversial subject that will become the main appeal, as opposed to the spiritual and, well, life-focused subject that it’s supposed to have. I’m not going to name what it is, because I feel that will only play into the glorifying of just the spectacle – along with stealing some of the power of the scene, not that you won’t know what’s coming – but instead will say that it portrays real death, on-screen. And it’s a powerful thing. The reaction shots we get of Gaia, the character, I almost believe are the real reactions that the actor playing her – and most of us unacquainted with such things – would have. And this moment is not the same kind of entertainment, simulated death that we’re used to; where some anonymous bad guy is shot and just falls down. Or the prolonged, speech-giving death-scene that many a character has been awarded for. It’s sad, and horrifying and yet necessary. Not only for most of us to survive, but also for the character – and all of us broken individuals – to see.

There’s a trailer on the movie’s website: http://www.gaiathemovie.com – check it out, and look for a screening near you. It’s a movie that is bound to effect you.

I know it has me.

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