River of Grass

Recently Restored
Directed by Kelly Reichardt.
With Lisa Donaldson, Larry Fessenden, Dick Russell.
US, 1994, DCP, color, 76 min.

Reichardt’s directorial debut reveals the ramshackle humor too often overlooked in her films. Indeed, with its deadpan comic pacing and playful embrace of popular genre—here, the lovers-on-the-run film—River of Grass places Reichardt somewhere on the same gnarled family tree of insightfully irreverent Americana as Barbara Loden, Jim Jarmusch and Sam Shepard. An autobiographically informed snapshot of her native Florida, River of Grass makes clear the gently offbeat humanism central to Reichardt’s cinema as it studies the strange bond accidently joining two deluded and strong-willed characters: a dispirited suburban mother and a restless man-child played by cult filmmaker and occasional actor (as well as the film’s producer) Larry Fessenden. The discovery of a pistol lost by an absent-minded police detective gives way to an unlikely, partially imagined adventure, as the couple spontaneously escapes into what they believe will be a runaway crime spree but which turns into something else. The fact that Fessenden’s character does not wear shoes nor understand how to even use a gun signals they are probably not going very far. Recently restored and rediscovered, River of Grass is acknowledged today as a classic of Nineties American independent cinema.

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