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Peter T Chattaway

Ma (dir. Celia Rowlson-Hall, 2015)

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A New (Mostly) Silent Film Speaks Volumes About Our Society
At the start of MA, Celia Rowlson-Hall’s quietly stirring directorial debut (opening tonight at Manhattan’s IFC Center), Proverbs 31:30 flashes across a black screen: “Who can find a virtuous woman?” It’s a line that can be unpacked a thousand ways in the present day, from the political (stonings, abortion bills) to the intensely private. Who is to say what hovered in the minds of viewers at the Venice Film Festival, where MA premiered to enthusiastic reviews a year and a half ago. Today, for some, there’s bound to be an aftertaste of the presidential election and an anticipation of next weekend’s Women’s March on Washington, where thousands will put a virtual movement into motion.
MA also tells the story of a woman on the road, journeying west through desert scrub land and deserted highways toward Las Vegas, where she gives birth to a baby. It’s a modern-day retelling of the Virgin Mary’s venture, only in this version there are no decrees, no dialogue. The language here—and it is nuanced and rich—is a composite of country-western tunes and crackling silences, evocative cinematography, and, above all, a style of physical expression drawn from the dance world. This is as pure a distillation of Rowlson-Hall’s creative vision as you can get, and not just because Kickstarter-raised funds afforded a certain amount of freedom for the choreographer turned director. (As a first-time filmmaker, Rowlson-Hall explains, she had a 27-page script about a virgin mother’s pilgrimage, with no words and no big-name actors: “You couldn’t say enough of those things in one sentence to have people not give you money.”) Her fingerprints are everywhere simply because she is: as writer, choreographer, sure-handed director, and riveting star. . . .
Vogue, January 13

Away with Words: Celia Rowlson-Hall’s "Ma"
Celia Rowlson-Hall’s film Ma (2015) is a film that centers on physicality. In particular it is about movement as an extension of thought, as palpable engagement with the material world. In fact, it is about bringing spiritual matters back down to earth. We are to understand that Ma (Rowlson-Hall) is a wandering mother-to-be, dusty and abandoned in the Nevada desert. Over time it is intimated that she is a symbolic stand-in for the Virgin Mary.
While wandering desperately in the middle of a two-lane highway, she is nearly hit by Daniel (Andrew Pastides), a young man in a car. He stops for her, she rides on his hood, and the two repair to a roadside motel. He is her Joseph; the two strike up a relationship of nudges, gestures, and inconclusive flirtations. Over the course of Ma, the mother is assaulted by a group of men in various costumes. Their violence is as thoroughgoing as it is casual. In addition to having their way with Ma, they possess the capability of breaking down the motel room set. They can break out of a destroy her diegetic world. . . .
As I said before, the idea of silence as a tool of resistance should not be overstated. But a silence like Rowland-Hall’s, a silence that speaks, shows us how the body can articulate the material realities, the tactile and affective maternal experiences, that language might only approximate. Ma is a complex artwork that engages with movement and space to suggest a cinematic form of body-talk, a language of resistant gesture and queer-feminist transformation.
Michael Sicinski, Mubi.com, January 18

 

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