October Country -- Film Review



"Every family is unhappy in its own way," wrote Leo Tolstoy in "Anna Karenina," and ample proof is provided by the Moshers in "October Country." Except that this clan isn't just unhappy in their own way, they're unhappy in a million different ways. The latest example of documentary cinema as voyeurism, this effort by co-directors Michael Palmieri and Donal Mosher (yes, he's related) will make going to your own family reunion, no matter how strained, seem a picnic by comparison.

The film, nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Silverdocs, is playing at New York's IFC Center before a national rollout.

Not surprisingly, considering that Mosher is a photographer and Palmieri has directed music videos by the likes of Beck, the Strokes, Belle and Sebastian and others, "October" has at times a painterly visual quality that contrasts with the hardscrabble lives of its subjects.

They are the four-generation Mosher clan, who live in the depressed Mohawk Valley region of Upstate New York. The family heads are Don and Dottie, whose marriage has been strained by the former's post-traumatic stress syndrome as a result of serving in Vietnam. His estranged sister Denise is a practicing Wiccan who likes to hang out at the local cemetery. Their daughter Donna has a long history of relationships with abusive men, and their teenage foster son Chris has decided criminal tendencies.

Donna's daughter Daneal has had her own troubles with men and is engaged in a custody battle with the father of her 2-year-old daughter, Ruby. Her other daughter, Desi, is a quick-witted 11-year-old who is all too aware of her relatives' "retarded" behavior.

The film chronicles the family's fortunes, ranging from bad to worse, over the course of a single year from one Halloween to the next.

Family dysfunction has proved a rich resource for documentary filmmakers in recent years, but "October" lacks the narrative drive and emotional resonance of such examples of the genre as "Tarnation" and "Capturing the Friedmans." The film piles on its endless family issues with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, never bothering to provide much in the way of social context. It feels far more exploitative than illuminating. What this family needs is a therapist, not a spotlight.

Opens Friday, Feb. 12 (Wishbone Films, International Film Circuit)
Directors: Michael Palmieri, Donal Mosher
Producer/director of photography/editor: Michael Palmieri
Music: Danny Grody, Donal Mosher, Michael Palmieri, Kenric Taylor
No rating, 80 minutes
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