One of last year’s most acclaimed documentaries, Robert Greene’s “Actress,” has arrived on VOD. Greene has previously earned praise for his films “Kati with an I” and “Fake It So Real,” but “Actress” represents a greater critical breakthrough for the filmmaker, with the film making the top 10 documentaries of both the Indiewire and Village Voice year-end film polls. Some critics went even further, with Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri naming it as his favorite film of the year (tied with “Interstellar”) and calling it “one of the greatest documentaries I’ve ever seen.”
Greene has long been an advocate for more formally adventurous, less subject-driven non-fiction films, and he embodies that ideal with “Actress.” The film follows Brandy Burre, an actress who had a recurring role on “The Wire” but gave up her career to raise her two children with her partner, Tim. Burre attempts to relaunch her career, but her duties at home, coupled with a mid-film split from Tim, complicate things.
On its face, Greene’s film sounds like a slice-of-life drama. But Burre’s apparently rehearsed speeches often call into question how much she’s performing in her daily life, and to what degree documentary subjects are performing at all times. Greene’s camera, meanwhile, gives ordinary acts of washing dishes an incandescent glow, making them heightened moments of melodrama that have earned comparisons to Douglas Sirk. Greene turns to impressionism just as often as he does to expressionism, especially as he starts to blend the film’s timeline into something hazy and uncertain (Burre’s split from Tim isn’t given the expected big blowup – suddenly, it’s just another development he and Burre deal with).
I saw “Actress” last year at New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center, and I was just as often frustrated by it as I was thrilled by it. A slow-motion sequence of Burre wandering her house and meeting her children on the stairs was a scene of the year contender for me, while the film’s reduction of everyone other than Burre to a figure, while clearly purposeful, alienated me. I wound up describing it to friends as the best film of the year that I was mixed on, and three months later I’m still unable to get it out of my head. I’m eager to revisit it, and hopeful that it’ll find a wider audience on VOD.
More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:
Bilge Ebiri, Vulture
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
Greene, who shot, cut and produced the movie with longtime collaborators Douglas Tirola and Susan Bedusa, tends to create dazzlingly textured experiences (and with his recent editing credit on the Sundance hit “Listen Up Philip,” he’s well positioned to gain further recognition for his directing efforts). “Actress” is an ideal illustration of his layered approach, as it presents Burre’s experiences in a masterfully assembled set of sounds and images. Read more.
Greene’s film is deceptively profound in that it’s about a specific woman with a specific kind of life, yet it has universal resonance as a reflection of the struggle so many women endure—the desire to be all things to all people and inevitably failing someone, the yearning to balance career and parenthood and never finding enough time to do either completely right. Read more.
Noel Murray, The Dissolve
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, The A.V. Club