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Gitty (Peyton Kennedy) is an 11-year-old girl living a pastoral life on a Wisconsin farm in the mid-1980s. She’s still young enough to believe there is no evil in the world, that her farm is the center of the universe, and her father is a man of great wisdom, and yet, there are hints to all of this that these might not be true. Her father (Kip Pardue) is a kind man, hardened, these days concerned about what he hears from President Reagan and the state of farmers in America being swallowed by corporations taking advantage of farms in foreclosure. He sees flashes of new curiosity in his daughter, questions he can’t answer about what lies beyond the cornfields of his farm and it affects him in ways she can’t see.
In the peripheral around Gitty’s carefree life, things are growing dark, though understanding what it means is not so easy. Her cruel older brother Martin (Gavin MacIntosh) ruthlessly teases her and she knows her father and pregnant mother (Marci Miller) argue but not why. Her best friend is a chicken she named ‘Happy’. While exploring one day, she is drawn to a derelict silo deep into the property and finds a man in a suit named Jonathan (Richard Schiff) trapped within. Well-dressed, he is desperate and hungry but pleads with her not to tell anyone that he is there, that he must be her secret. But he is only one of many growing oddities in Gitty’s curiously-colored world.
Written and directed by Anne Hamilton, in her feature film debut, American Fable is a haunting tale of a world in chaos as seen through the eyes of a little girl on the edge of breaking innocence, clinging to the blissful ideals of youth while the dark vapors of adulthood slowly tinge the borders. Seeped in metaphor and symbolism, Hamilton infuses a tragic sense of betrayal and mistrust wrapped in a tantalizing mystery that asks challenging questions as it plays out in a kind of disjointed storybook fashion, meant to parallel Gitty’s assembling of what she encounters.
Gitty’s journey is one of awakening. When she first meets Jonathan, we aren’t sure if he is actually real, she believing he is a man who grants wishes. Nor also the mysterious figure on a horse riding on the horizon that seems to be steadily circling nearer. But she knowns there are some certainties. At the local county fair, she sees her father speaking with a curious-looking woman (Zuleikha Robinson), and she sees things on television that seem to fill in some gaps, all the while she sneaks out to the silo and builds a relationship with Jonathan who is a man clearly in great fear but tender and careful with Gitty.
Peyton Kennedy is astonishing as Gitty, a talent of incredible presence. Gitty searches for answers but in ways that are not so obvious, such as her dependence on stories from her father and from Jonathan to piece together what looms over her. She is in every scene, carrying the film from its opening moments of hope to the dark clouds of despair beyond. Schiff is also very strong, in a remarkable performance that instills the very sense of magical properties Gitty sees within him while capturing well what he represents to the adults in her life and the terror of Jonathan’s situation. But is he a good man?
The film becomes a parable of sorts as it progresses, a deeply-layered metaphor about great loss as Hamilton and cinematographer Wyatt Garfield immerse the film in highly-affecting imagery that often speaks as much about the story as the dialogue. We are meant to puzzle over interpretation of course, as the story builds more and more dread upon Gitty, then blaming her for why its happening. As we ponder the meaning of the message and consider Gitty’s growth, then pour over the questions the final frame invites, American Fable earns its title, making this a truly troubling, sensational cinematic experience.
Movie description: American Fable is a 2017 thriller about a young girl on a family farm who makes a surreal discovery in the old silo far off the property and is forced to make devastating choice.
Director(s): Anne Hamilton
Actor(s): Peyton Kennedy, Richard Schiff, Kip Pardue