Oh, the long and winding road of film distribution, independent film distribution. So few make it into our cinemas, our rental stores, our homes; so many fall by the wayside. I’d forgotten about ‘Ballast,’ Lance Hammer’s desolate debut feature which played at the London Film Festival three years ago. Despite the critical acclaim, and the ‘Best Director’ prize at Sundance, the film disappeared. I believe it was released on DVD in the US in late 2009. But now, like a racing pigeon given up for lost in the harsh Atlantic winds, it has fetched up again in the UK. It deserves a big 2.35:1 welcome for making it. (Thanks, Axiom Films.)
The flatlands of the Mississippi delta. A suicide affects the lives of three individuals: Marlee, her restive 12-year-old son, James, and Lawrence, a placid highway-store owner. That’s as much as you can say about the plot without intruding on the film’s taciturn manner, in which exposition is almost incidental, distilled drop by drop from the encounters on-screen. (It takes an hour for the actual relationship between the three principals to be made explicit.) The mechanics of story don’t really operate in this ‘zero’ gravity of information, though Hammer’s concern isn’t plot, or even character, but environment; his protagonists rooted in the bleak, dishevelled landscape – is Mississippi twinned with Bela Tarr’s Hungarian plains? – they’re implicit victims of an economic and geographic desolation, victims who nonetheless work towards a tentative agreement, a gesture of a way forward.
Yes, ‘Ballast‘ is dismal, understated and downbeat, but it’s also tender and honest and kind of beautiful.
Ballast is released in selected cinemas across the UK this Friday (March 18th)