'The Teller and the Truth': Film Review

Courtesy of Roadwings Entertainment
Far more atmosphere than substance.
2/26/2016

Andrew Shapter's moc-doc looks at the disappearance of a small-town woman.

Why would a director make a faux-documentary about a story he intends to show largely via staged film-within-a-film reenactments? That's the first question arising in Andrew Shapter's The Teller and the Truth, a picture "based on true stories" that cares less about any actual event than on the wanderlust of its manufactured heroine. The mysteries surrounding her disappearance from a small Texas town are much more compelling to that town's residents than they will be for viewers, unfortunately, leaving meager commercial prospects for this ambitious but muddled exercise.

As imagined here in reenactments and faux-present-day interviews, Truth is the story of a bank teller, Francis Wetherbee, who was kidnapped as part of a robbery in 1974, rescued, and then disappeared from little Smithfield, Texas, not long after — never to return. Actors playing Smithfield residents ponder her disappearance and the discovery of her car in a nearby river with no body in it: Did she die? Was she abducted again?

But any investigatory momentum the film might build is negated by the fact that one of its speakers, an unseen interviewee who goes unintroduced until very late, seems to have all the answers; while old neighbors and lovers are musing on Francis's wiles and her discontent with rural society, the movie is already showing long, dreamy chunks of footage of her living another life.

Originally a fashion photographer, Shapter applies the same lush commercial aesthetic to both "imagined" flashbacks and interviews with the journalists and bankers who describe the Weatherbee they thought they knew. He gets lost in the Marion Cotillard-like eyes of Leilani Galvan, who plays the bank teller, in sequences that sometimes play like TV spots for perfume.

One possible reason not to turn this material into a proper feature, discarding all the unilluminating faux-doc interviews, might be that Shapter can't trust his first-timer leading lady to act: There's no dialogue to speak of in these flashbacks, just an often unhelpful TV-grade score by frequent Robert Rodriguez collaborator Carl Thiel. Even once he starts imagining answers to the questions her disappearance poses, Shapter leaves the talking to others, with young Frances remaining more a cipher than a mystery.

Distributor: FilmBuff
Production company: Roadwings Entertainment
Cast: Leilani Galvan, Russell Gustave Ochoa, Helena Stoddard, Diane Perella
Director: Andrew Shapter
Screenwriters: Andrew Shapter, Nevie Owens, Patty Moynahan
Producers: Christina Fernandez, Tracy Marino, Nicole Rodan, Andrew Shapter
Executive producers: Craig Eiland, Ted Loh
Directors of photography: Josh Marr, Andrew Shapter
Editors: Nevie Owens, Andrew Shapter
Composer: Carl Thiel
Casting director: Christina Fernandez

Not rated, 83 minutes

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