REVIEW: A Ghost Story

9 07 2017

Sundance Film Festival

I knew little about “A Ghost Story” prior to the moment when A24’s bumper was projected onto the screen, apart from a cryptic tease on director David Lowery’s Instagram and his opening statement at the theater’s podium claiming that he couldn’t wait to talk with us about it afterwards. I intend to convey as little as possible in order not to spoil “A Ghost Story” for others, although words could scarcely convey what must simply be experienced cerebrally and emotionally.

This pensive, plaintive drama floats freely through time with the ghost of a man credited as C (Casey Affleck), but otherwise never named in the film. After a car crash takes his life, C emerges from the autopsy table and returns to his old dwelling underneath a white sheet with dark eyeholes. He stays and watches what remains of the time his partner M (Rooney Mara) spends there and then some – imagine spending an entire film in Kubrick’s Renaissance Room from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” On a moment-to-moment basis, “A Ghost Story” captivates simply (though not entirely) for lack of knowledge over where it might go next.

The ghost mills about, and we are never entirely sure what motivates his actions. The sheet serves as a blank slate onto which we can project our own ideas and assign our desired motivations. It is abundantly clear that he does share a special bond with both M and the plot of land they bought together, one with a history that transcends the impermanence of life that Lowery so carefully depicts. He does with image and montage what a film like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” to pick an easy example, does with narrative.

Lowery introduces a narrative conceit to remove us from our traditional comprehension of time and leaves us to ponder what forces still operate in these conditions. His film achieves the rare balance of technical precision and emotional honesty. “A Ghost Story” gives audiences plenty to unpack in every camera angle, edit and sonic accompaniment, but Lowery also slips in a certain weightiness that instills a desire – if not compulsion – to want to undertake such an effort. B+

NOTE: A portion of this review ran as a part of my coverage of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival for Movie Mezzanine.

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