The MV Film Center adds two new films to its schedule this weekend. Ava DuVernay’s family drama, “Middle of Nowhere,” begins Thursday, Feb. 28, and Michael Apted’s documentary, “56 Up,” will start Friday, March 1.
Ms. DuVernay is the first African-American woman to win the Sundance Film Festival’s Best Director award. In “Middle of Nowhere,” she creates a memorable portrait of a young black couple, Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) and Derek (Omari Hardwick), struggling with Derek’s incarceration. The movie’s very first scene, of a bus traveling to Victorville Prison in Adelanto, Calif., outside Los Angeles, sets up the story on a literal level as happening in the “middle of nowhere.” Ruby, a registered nurse, vows to scrap plans for medical school so she can make the four-hour round-trip to visit Derek every weekend and work on his release. As the story unfolds, though, it becomes clear that Ruby’s life is on hold –– also in the “middle of nowhere.”
The film distinguishes itself by probing beneath the conventional movie stereotypes of men in jail and their loved ones. By withholding information at first about how Derek landed in prison and why Ruby has uneasy relationships with her mother and sister, “Middle of Nowhere” keeps the spotlight on the complexities of the two central character’s lives.
Both struggle with a separation that stretches out four years, as they nurture the hope that Derek will win parole and an early release from his eight-year term. Tight finances mean legal help is hard to come by, and Ruby relies on her family to help out the best they can. Things take an unexpected turn, and once a bus driver named Brian (David Oyelowo, also in “The Help”) comes into Ruby’s life, she faces the dilemma of whether to keep hanging on to a future with Derek or opt for something else.
The slow pace of “Middle of Nowhere” may bother some viewers, but it gives the director time to build fully realized portraits of how people in this situation cope. Ms. Duverney uses blues ballads and other forms of music to reinforce the mood and eventually reveals enough of the missing pieces of Ruby’s and Derek’s lives to keep the momentum going. The message of “Middle of Nowhere” will stick with the viewer long after the end of this well-acted and well-out-together movie.
“56 Up” is the eighth installment of Michael Apted’s film series tracking the lives of 14 British citizens from different economic and social strata in a new film every seven years. Beginning when they were all seven, Mr. Apted has dropped into their lives again with his camera crew at ages 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49, and now 56. As a number of the subjects complain, these snapshots don’t really give a complete picture of who they are, but the revelation of physical changes alone will intrigue the viewer.
The fascination of the latest installment in this remarkable film series lies in the overview it gives of how people’s lives evolve, what values they develop, and how social presumptions change over the nearly 50 years documented by the filmmaker. Paul, for instance, started out in a children’s home, moved to Australia with his dad and stepmom, and worked in the building trades and in factories. “56 Up” catches up with him and his wife both working contentedly in a retirement home and spending time with children and grandchildren.
While viewers might worry that they need to have seen the other seven installments to appreciate “56 Up,” the new installment is constructed with excerpts from the earlier versions that shed light on the decisions and contexts of the participants. In one of the more fascinating segments of “56 Up,” Neil, who didn’t get in to Oxford and found himself homeless at 28, has become a local government councilman and lay minister. One of the more self-aware of the subjects, he still finds himself examining his life and the choices he has made.
Suzy, who started out in a troubled aristocratic background with divorcing parents and who threatened to drop out of the film series, finds at 56 that she’s worked through the difficult times. Peter did drop out after being attacked for political views he expressed in one of the earlier films, but he rejoins the series now that he’s in a successful music group that he wants to promote.
The insights Mr. Apted provides through these time-lapse portraits will keep the viewer hooked and wondering what changes the next installment will bring. A filmed version of the British farce, “The Magistrate,” (reviewed 2/21), plays Friday, March 1, and Searching for Sugar Man,” which just won Best Documentary Oscar, returns Sunday, March 3. Information was not available for “Romantics Anonymous,” which will screen on Sunday, and Alain Resnais’s 1959 film “Hiroshima Mon Amour” is scheduled for the Wednesday Film Classics series.
“Middle of Nowhere,” Thursday, Feb. 28, 7:30 pm, and Saturday, Mar. 2, 4 pm.
“56 Up,” Friday, Mar. 1, 4 pm, and Saturday, Mar. 2 7:30 pm.
“The Magistrate,” Friday, Mar. 1, 7:30 p.m.
“Searching for Sugar Man,” Sunday, Mar. 3, 4 pm.
“Romantics Anonymous, Sunday, Mar. 3, 7:30 pm.
“Hiroshima Mon Amour,” Wednesday, Mar. 6, 7:30 pm.
All films play at the M.V. Film Center, Tisbury Marketplace, Vineyard Haven. Tickets $10 ($7 for M.V. Film Society members). For more information, see www.mvfilmsociety.com.