Saturday, 15 July 2017

BITCH - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Fantasia 2017 unleashes dark, savage, feminist satire

BITCH: provocative title, provocative movie.

Bitch (2017)
Dir. Marianna Palka
Starring: Jason Ritter, Marianna Palka, Jaime King

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Soon after a failed suicide attempt, housewife Jill (Marianna Palka) can't help but notice a mysterious dog hanging around the beautiful suburban home she lives in with her four children and heartless, scheming, cheating husband Bill (Jason Ritter). She can't keep her eyes off the mangy shepherd and the friendly, panting dog does likewise. They have a bond. Too bad nobody else can see the doggy. Jill, you see, is having a complete nervous breakdown. She's a supermom to her kids and runs the home with clockwork efficiency, but she's so very much alone.

Marianna Palka's provocatively titled Bitch is a savage feminist satire that's as creepy as it is funny and it takes the kind of unexpected narrative turns that are not only aesthetically tantalizing, but yield the kind of original, uncompromising work that restores one's faith in cinema. Stranger even still, is that it slowly develops into a deeply moving tale of redemption.

But who, precisely, is the recipient of this redemption? As it turns out, in the film's exploration of patriarchal domination and its damaging effects upon a woman who simply wants to be loved, appreciated and maintain her sanity as both a woman and a human being, the central character to whom the film bestows its fullest arc is none other than her asshole husband Bill. At first, we are resolutely in Jill's sphere, but the perspective slowly changes - it's Bill whom we follow. If anything, the film is about a man opening his eyes when he has to stare in the mirror and recognize what he's become, and perhaps, always was.

At first, when Jill seems to absorb the personality and spirit of the mysterious dog, Bill is faced with the prospect of actually having to be a father. The family unit suffers a complete breakdown when the beleaguered wife and mom transforms into a growling, snarling "bitch" (female dog) - crawling about on all fours, urinating and defecating all over the house and eventually being banished to the basement as hubby Bill tries to juggle the needs of his children and the demands of his job. He seeks the help and support of Jill's sister Beth (Jaime King) and since he's completely useless as a father (he doesn't even know what schools his kids attend), he puts his sister-in-law in the position of being a surrogate homemaker.

Bitch not only becomes Bill's story, but is, in fact, his story. What a brave and original work this is. In essence, his redemption as a human being is emblematic of his own wife's redemption, his family's survival and a journey to recognize the effects of patriarchy.

Palka directs the movie as if her life depended upon it. Though it has a similar cold veneer one sees in the work of someone like Michael Haneke, Palka's control over her clever screenplay wends its way into a kind of humanity that Haneke can only dream about. (If anything, her work here feels closer to that of Ulrich Seidl.) Palka's own performance is astonishing - veering from "a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown" (giving Gena Rowlands a run for her money in the famous Cassavetes title of the same name) to a human being infused with all the properties, physical and behavioural, of a canine. This is acting of the highest, richest level. Jason Ritter's work is equally brilliant. That he sketches a completely worthless human being that we eventually care about is nothing short of stellar.

Bitch knocks us on our asses. We never know where it's going to go, but when we get there with it, we know we're in the territory of a genuinely great filmmaker, but most of all, we look upon a motion picture that turns itself upon us like a mirror. We're forced to confront both ourselves and the world around us.

This is what movies are meant to do.


Bitch enjoys its Canadian Premiere at Fantasia 2017.