THE ASSISTANT (2020, Kitty Green)
A stripped-down, narrow-focused short story about how moral conscience is systematically eroded and virtually criminalized by the machine of powerful companies and, specifically, film production. Less a product of #MeToo journalism than it is a careful tone poem existing on the outskirts of a job swimming in ingrained sexual harassment and exploitation. What Green, a documentary filmmaker whose CASTING JONBENET was a deeply weird meta-text, is up to here is defining an environment through detail — she uses precise editing, minimal score, and especially well-attuned sound design to drape you in the hapless charade of being an office grunt: note in particular the hum of fluorescent lights as their buzz is the only accompaniment to the first employee of the day in a lonely, dark office at the crack of dawn; the scrape of a metallic tissue holder as it’s slid dispassionately across a wooden desk; and a fork piercing the plastic wrap of a frozen supermarket meal-for-one.
What Green is not doing is biting off more than she can chew. No characters have names (they do in the credits, but not to the audience) in a self-conscious bid to decry the anonymity and de-personalization of the industry. And the decision to never see the face of the Weinstein-esque boss feels like a callback to films such as RAISE THE RED LANTERN, which centered on the kept wives of a Chinese lord, never bothering to give him a face either. This sets a low degree of difficulty, since Green doesn’t really have a responsibility towards storytelling, and while she clears the mark, unfortunately DP Michael Latham does not. This thing looks like cold garbage: as if wax paper was taped to the lens as a filter, wiping every frame with a low-contrast digital smear. There’s a way good cinematographers capture the banality of Kafka-esque offices. This is not BRAZIL or THE HUDSUCKER PROXY. It’s a documentary cameraman seemingly out of his depth, and the ugliness doesn’t seem to be on purpose.