Sunday, 12 March 2017

UNCERTAIN review

Now showing at the ICA and on demand from 17th of March, Uncertain is Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands' documentary about life in a town in the back end of nowhere.


If you find a place on a map labelled "Uncertain", you know there's going to be people there with some stories to tell, and that's what directors Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands decided to explore in this award winning documentary. Situated on the border between Texas and Louisiana, Uncertain is a small town with a population of 94, often used as a passing through point for criminals crossing state lines. The entire town has an eerie calm, like the setting to a Coen Brothers crime thriller lying dormant in wait for the next bad guys to show up. This documentary focuses on three different men from the town to uncover what life is really like there.

What is initially striking about the film is how gorgeous a location it is. The Caddo Lake and surrounding vegetation resemble a scene from a film set 50 years after an apocalypse, with the greenery allowed to grow unfettered. This is something of a concern for the current locals, with the unwelcome weed Salvinia (actually quite a sweet thing to look at) growing across the lake and choking the town of its fishing industry. Scientists are trying to find a way of stopping the lake from being entirely engulfed, with the future for the area looking bleak but then also quite beautiful.

It's on the Caddo Lake that we meet Henry, an old fisherman with a criminal past but who since the loss of his wife spends his days on his boat reflecting on his life, hoping he did enough good to balance out his misdeeds. He has a wonderful face that tells a thousand sad stories, and brings so much deep introspection to the film. The next key figure is Wayne, a hunter on the trail of a wild hog he dubs Mr Ed. Another man with a past he is haunted by, he is driven to catch and kill Mr Ed by the need for a sense of purpose more than anything. His past is the most colourful, and he is the most forthcoming about his struggle to grapple with his demons.


The last of the main subjects is Zach, a young man facing an Uncertain future with a drinking problem that is hampering his treatment for Diabetes. He sees no future for himself and hopes to leave the town before it is too late, but with minimal job prospects and declining health, the most he can aim for is a better standard of living elsewhere. As a young man he is leading a very different life to Henry and Wayne, but it's not a huge leap to see connections and possible similarities within the lives and journeys of these men. Zach has the potential to be the most tragic or hopeful of the subjects here, depending on what route he takes next.

With echoes of Alma Har'el's Bombay Beach (set in a visually different but equally neglected small town in America), it is the human element and how they survive within this landscape that is most captivating. As a consequence of the make up of the population all of the key figures are men, connected by a feeling that Uncertain is some sort of purgatory for them, stuck there to pay for their pasts and wait for the weeds to overtake them.

Uncertain is a visually striking and absorbing documentary that reflects on the ghosts of the past, the prospects of an uncertain future and the consequences of those choices made as a young man.

Verdict
4/5

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