Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Places in the Heart
The American South during the Great depression. The economy is scarce, and thus Edna Spalding is hit even harder when her husband, a Sheriff, is killed in an incident. Now a widow with two kids, Possum and Frank, Edna is faced with eviction if she does not pay her loan to the bank, and thus decides to team up with homeless Moze and Will, who became blind after participating in war, to use her land to plant cotton. The problem is that the price of cotton has fallen to 3.5 cents per pound, and thus decides to hire extra workers to get the prize as the first farmer of cotton bale of the year. She succeeds, though Moze moves away in fear of the Ku Klux Klan raids.
Robert Benton's "Places in the Heart" is a gentle and touching ode to his childhood memories that seems to be among those films that form an informal 'subgenre' of the American South in the past - "Forrest Gump", "Driving Miss Daisy" and others - that all share the common nostalgia for those times that were imperfect, but people were somehow more alive, affectionate and honest than in modern times. Indeed, the protagonists in this 'slice-of-life' storyline are somehow precious, as if every move they make is worth noticing. Living in the Great depression, they are extremely poor with material things - but, on the other hand, incredibly rich with humanity, spirituality and solidarity towards each other. Even when Benton makes several errors (for instance, why does Will have to be blind? What does the subplot in which Ed Harris' character has an affair with a woman contribute to the main story in any way? At best, it seems like a fifth wheel) he compensates with great characters who are very sympathetic, and it is a joy watching them simply interact with each other (a woman giving the homeless Moze some food at her door; after her husband has been killed, Edna goes to the house weeping and tells her sister: "Don't let them see me like this..."; the tender moment when Edna bashfully describes to Will how 'imperfect' she looks like, which is irresistible; the sequence where she manages to sway a merchant to pay more for her cotton or else she will go to his competitor). There is an unwritten rule that the audiences will root for the protagonist more if he or she undergoes a great suffering with little odds to succeed, and even though it is a tried out method, it still works here when the fragile Edna has to invest everything to pick cotton on her farm before the competitors, which involves a marathon day-and-night work nonstop. A few melodramatic moments aside, Benton leads a remarkably balanced film that is wonderfully unasuming, whereas he finds a great Edna in actress Sally Field, who manages to restrain her emotions and avoid turning too sentimental due to humor and optimism.