'American Fable': Film Review

This poetic, allegorical film is too obscure for its own good.

A young girl makes a startling discovery on her family farm in Anne Hamilton's feature debut.

There’s visual style to spare but precious little narrative coherence in Anne Hamilton’s debut feature set during the Reagan-era '80s. Its storyline revolving around a self-possessed young girl who makes a startling discovery at her family’s financially struggling Wisconsin farm, American Fable possesses an amorphous, dreamlike quality that proves increasingly irritating as it wears on.

The story revolves around 11-year-old Gitty (Peyton Kennedy), who lives on the isolated farm with her caring father Abe (Kip Pardue); pregnant, distracted mother Sarah (Marci Miller); and hostile, borderline abusive older brother Martin (Gavin MacIntosh). Despite Reagan’s promise that the nation is on an upswing, the farm crisis has hit the family hard, and they’re not the only ones: the rural community has recently been afflicted with a rash of suicides. Nonetheless, Abe assures his daughter that they’re living in “the best place on Earth."

Gitty, who seems to have no friends other than her pet chicken, largely lives in her own fantasy world. She spends much of her time riding around the gorgeous countryside on her bike, and exploring the far reaches of the farm, including a vacant silo. It’s there that she discovers Jonathan (the ever-reliable Richard Schiff), a well-dressed but haggard middle-aged man who tells her that he’s being held prisoner. Gitty honors his requests to bring him food and books — she has to go to the library to get them, because apparently no one in her family reads — and begins spending time with the stranger. He turns out to be a real-estate developer who’s been taking advantage of the locals’ financial situation to buy up farms at a cheap price. Gitty’s family is presumably involved in the kidnapping, although the specifics are left deliberately vague.

Other characters figuring in the murky proceedings include a friendly, middle-aged female cop (Rusty Schwimmer), and a mysterious stranger (Zuleikha Robinson) who may be having an affair with Gitty’s father and who becomes the subject of Gitty’s outlandish fantasies.

The filmmaker worked as an intern for Terrence Malick on The Tree of Life, and you can see his influence not only in the gorgeous cinematography but also the allegorical visuals and mysterious goings-on, whose meanings generally prove elusive. The film seems to be attempting a lyrical statement about the conflict between urban and rural values, but its random toggling between reality and fantasy ultimately proves more frustrating than thought-provoking.

Distributor: IFC Midnight
Cast: Peyton Kennedy, Kip Pardue, Richard Schiff, Gavn MacIntosh, Rusty Schwimmer, Zuleikha Robinson, Marci Miller
Director-screenwriter: Anne Hamilton
Producers: Kishori Rajan, Anne Hamilton
Executive producer: Kevin Harrington
Director of photography: Wyatt Garfield
Production designer: Bret August Tanzer
Costume designer: Megan Spatz
Music: Gingger Shankar
Editor: Amanda C. Griffin
Casting: Sunday Boling, Meg Morman

Rated PG-13, 97 minutes