Cruel But Necessary (review)

Is it real, or is it fake? That was the debate when clips from this camcorder-shot movie turned up on YouTube a few years back, clips that appeared to show a cheating husband caught, unwittingly, on home-movie video talking to his lover (he thought the camcorder was turned off). That’s how this brilliant, provocative, wonderfully innovative film opens, and it continues in that vein, the work of one “Betty Munson,” now divorced from that rat, as she delves into new realms of discovery about herself and the world via her videocamera. Sometimes she hides it and records others surreptitiously, and in the process peels away layers of lies and secrets; sometimes she speaks directly into it, and it becomes a kind of diary of her intellectual and emotional awakening. The overall effect is astonishing: this is a smart, challenging film that demands close attention on the viewer’s part — “We expected the audience to do work,” actor-turned-director Saul Rubinek explains on his commentary track, by “participat[ing] in the telling of this story.” We simply don’t hear things like that from American filmmakers, and it makes for a deliciously refreshing change of pace. What’s more, this movie startles with its voice, not only for offering a genuine female perspective — which is rare enough in American film — but for its outlook that is decidedly unconventional: here we see aspects of women’s experience that are raw and honest and not typically explored on film. (Star Wendel Meldrum also wrote the screenplay — I would frankly have been stunned if a man had written it — though much of the dialogue was improvised.) As if this weren’t enough, the entire film was produced, according to Rubinek’s commentary, for around $10,000, which proves that big budgets are not necessary for big results. Honestly: see this movie to see how creative and relevant American filmmaking can be. (Extras include a commentary track by Meldrum, deleted scenes, and more.)

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