A master of observational cinema, Frederick Wiseman’s more recent films have loosely focused on contemporary American life – from courtrooms, hospital beds, schoolyards and military bases, to monasteries and meat-processing plants. Now he has turned to America’s agricultural heartland in Monrovia, Indiana.
Playing ‘out of competition’, Monrovia addresses issues of rural depopulation, environmental damage and gun control, among others. Set in a small town in rural Midwest America with a population of just 1400, it’s clear that the streets can’t stretch too far – we pass the same tattoo salon quite a few times. Without a doubt, we are in Trump’s America, and it serves as an infuriating, nauseating, terrifying and awe-inspiring document of our times.
For its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, all this might be laughable. However, Wiseman has made this for an American audience who must now come to terms with those who voted in their president. The documentarian has half-jokingly called his approach ‘reality fiction’, a panoramic lens through which we can understand American life, political ideology and the human condition.
Without interviews, voiceover commentary, music, explanatory intertitles or unnecessary dramatic manipulations, he lets the subject matter speak for itself. We see the full spectrum of human follies and heroics, from the ordinary to the extraordinary, while still maintaining protagonist status.
Wiseman documents life, from cradle to grave, in a politically urgent and necessary look at the American Midwest with absolutely no judgement. Film is a light sculpture in time, and Frederick Wiseman has made another one. Monrovia, Indiana is nothing short of a masterpiece.
DIRECTOR: Frederick Wiseman
SYNOPSIS: Monrovia, Indiana explores a small town in rural, mid-America and illustrates how values like community service, duty, spiritual life, generosity and authenticity are formed, experienced and lived along with conflicting stereotypes.