Ballast: BAM, May 31, 2008
Lance Hammer’s American art film Ballast, which premiered at Sundance this year, gets a NYC theatrical release from IFC Films on August 29. But you can preview it this Saturday, August 31 at 9 pm when it screens in BAM’s Sundance series. A quiet fable of despair and salvation among the impoverished residents of the Mississippi Delta, Ballast is visually overwhelming from its first shot: the camera work is simple and direct, but the natural light of the overcast delta gives Hammer’s widescreen, horizon-line compositions a palpable realism. (Is conventional film lighting necessary at all? Seems to me that most of the really dazzling effects I see are the result of imperfections that point up the limitations of the photographic image.) The first movement of Ballast, jumping mysteriously between solid blocks of image and sound that allude to the story rather than narrate it, is sublime: a documentary stalked by a horror film, a subtle infusion of naturalism with the uncanny. If the film ultimately settles into a more conventional form of storytelling, it retains an exciting connection with the intractable personalities of its non-professional performers and the darkling barrenness of the terrain. The proof of Hammer’s artistic intuition is that he hinges the story’s climax on a magical event that only a committed realist could get away with; the proof of his artistic commitment is that he lets the film’s bleak setting and ominous imagery have their way with the potentially heartwarming ending.