'Fort Buchanan': Film Review

Courtesy of Festival del film Locarno
An oddball semi-comic tale of sexual frustration.
2/5/2016

Army wives "experiment" with each other on a very peculiar military base.

Imagining a surprisingly gay-friendly version of the U.S. military that happens to be operating in France and peopled by francophones, Benjamin Crotty's Fort Buchanan discovers a kind of queer Petri dish of Army wives left to make "adult play dates" with each other while their husbands are stationed overseas. A kind of soap opera-sans-plot spanning four seasons, the episodic film creates a world of its own where realistic emotional concerns manifest in almost surreal ways. It should find admirers in a niche arthouse run, especially at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, where it is put in oddball context by the curated series Friends With Benefits.

Shot on 16mm and feeling like it might have played an art theater in the early 1980s, the film takes place in what looks more like a summer camp for grown-ups than a military compound: residents lounge in grassy fields, live far from each other in haute-design cabins, wear whatever they want. Roger (Andy Gillet), initially the story's focus, is the sole man in the core group of characters, raising daughter Roxy (Iliana Zabeth) while his husband Frank (David Baiot) serves on the Horn of Africa.

Gillet is in his mid-thirties and beautiful, but one of the pic's odd conceits is that he's an over-the-hill fuddy-duddy who has been married for 18 years to Frank and raised an 18-year-old mostly on his own. Lamenting his sexless isolation, he is surprised when the nameless women in his group say they address this problem by having sex with each other. They soon demonstrate by groping the barely-legal Roxy. "I thought you were married," the girl objects to one. "I am," she replies, "I'm just not a fanatic."

Soon the entire group has somehow gone to visit Roger's husband in Africa, where things don't go as planned. A man doesn't travel to another continent hoping to hear that his partner has a headache and needs to get up early the next day. In the drunken party that follows, the film's narrative interests get as scrambled as the relationships it observes; soon a season has passed and we're back at about-to-close Fort Buchanan, following a character who was barely mentioned in the story's first half.

However much he teases viewers, Crotty manages to make his cobbled-together world (much of the screenplay was cut-and-pasted from the dialogue of anonymous TV programs) feel like an actual place. It may never be quite solid enough for us to be truly worried about its inhabitants' happiness, but watching them pursue that happiness is a uniquely diverting experience.

Production company: Les Films du Bal
Cast: Andy Gillet, Iliana Zabeth, David Baiot, Mati Diop, Luc Chessel, Nancy Lane Kaplan, Pauline Jacquard, Guillaume Palin, Judith Lou Lévy
Director-screenwriter: Benjamin Crotty
Producer: Judith Lou Lévy
Director of photography: Michael Capron
Production designer: Toma Baqueni
Editors: Ael Dallier, Penda Houzangbe
Composer: Ragnar Arni Agustsson

In French

Not rated, 65 minutes

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