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Meditations on Death: A Review of Putty Hill

Irina Ivanova Feb 18

Matt Porterfield’s newest feature Putty Hill might best be described by the things it is not. Not quite a documentary. Not overly intricate. And the film’s central character never appears onscreen – in fact, he died before the film started.

This tender film, notable for its style as well as its content, focuses on the family and friends of a young man who just died. Amidst the verdant summer of a suburb that feels miles away from its city of Baltimore, the characters are largely taken out of their physical and social environment and drawn into pensive interviews with a slightly creepy off-screen voice.

You won’t find a robust narrative arc here – the characters mostly just talk about their experiences with each other, the town, and the deceased. But the degree to which they bare themselves to the camera is, at times, astounding. The intense, complicated content gets a big boost from the exceptional cinematography – even more impressive when you learn that the film was shot in only 12 days. (!)

The leisurely pacing, which at times feels tedious, underscores the director’s genuine interest in his subjects. He depicts these blue-collar folks gently, but avoids the temptation that too many indie flicks succumb to of overromanticizing the working classes.

The film opens tonight at Cinema Village, and the director and some of the crew will be on hand to answer questions afterward. Check out showtimes here.

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