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RaMell Ross | Hale County This Morning, This Evening

[…] Cinema specificity is at its highest degree here, and the experience we can have of the Hale County is one of unadulterated reality – with the strongest emotional impact possible – without any judgmental supplement.

[…] The incredible density of the film depends on the pulsating editing – which willingly plays with purely visual associations – but also on the photographic approach to almost every frame.

[…] A sort of eternal present takes form thanks to a precise discontinuity between the scenes concerning the people’s lives and the images of the geographical context of the Hale County.

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After viewing RaMell Ross’ Hale County This Morning, This Evening, one has certainly plenty of strong scenes in the eyes, but also a simple question in the mouth: «What does all of this mean?». The correct answer to this question is: «Anything but what we see and hear». The capital virtue of this film is in its not using images and sounds to convey an idea or a message, but showing them for what they are. Cinema specificity is at its highest degree here, and the experience we can have of the Hale County is one of unadulterated reality – with the strongest emotional impact possible – without any judgmental supplement. Of course, the condition of the black communities in the States is explored and we get some first-hand information on it; but the intentions of the film clearly go beyond a documentary analysis, and fully exploit the expressive register, so putting the filmmaker’s and our own experience of this world at the very centre.

The incredible density of the film depends on the pulsating editing – which willingly plays with purely visual associations – but also on the photographic approach to almost every frame (RaMell Ross is a photographer in his first experience with the film): one could extract plenty of stills from Hale County This Morning, This Evening and very often find images that abound with eloquent details. The apparent absence of a linear storytelling – even if some characters are followed in their familiar evolution – is fulfilled by a profusion of micro-stories stemming from almost every little sequence. This accumulation of stories creates an expansion of the perceived time and, at the end of the movie, it is incredible to discover that it has lasted only 76 minutes.

Another element reinforcing the sensation of time expansion is the constant presence of movements that don’t seem to have a goal – beside the basket for the basketball players. The close proximity of the camera to the bodies of the persons (sometime literally an "embodied camera" – we could say) underlines their explosive energy, which is spent in ephemeral spontaneous expressions. The wonderful scene of the little child athletically running back and forth in the apartment could exemplify a fundamental mood of this black community, which is joyfully living in the force expenditure but as if in the absence of any constructive perspective (the scene will be followed by the equally striking scene of the basketball players moving and waiting in the locker room). A sort of eternal present takes form thanks to a precise discontinuity between the scenes concerning the people’s lives and the images of the geographical context of the Hale County: the landscapes – and any larger vision of the county – are shown through altered images and speed, mixing up the earth and the sky, the local and the cosmic. It is as if beyond the physical limits of the human body the abyss of a frenetic and dizzying world opens up.

The careful work on the sound and the insertion of breath-taking musical excerpts follow the swinging movement transmitted by the editing, and stress the peculiar combination of fragmentation and concentration that Hale County This Morning, This Evening expresses. Thus, it is probably the double "this" of the title that emerges as the real protagonist of the movie, thereby touching on a profound theme: the intimate connection between joy and despair. If the despair behind the apparent joy that RaMell Ross is able to catch can be seen as a critical (re-)formulation of the condition of black communities in the States, the context-independent joy that anyhow resists behind the despair speaks of a transcendental truth concerning the life as such, the truth of ecstasy. By the way, "ecstasy of images" could be a good translation for the word "Bildrausch"…

Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore | Audio/Video: Ruth Baettig

First published: May 30, 2018

Hale County This Morning, This Evening | Film | RaMell Ross | USA 2018 | 76’ | Bildrausch Filmfest Basel 2018

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Screening at Bildrausch Filmfest Basel 2018 

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