Director: Emma Tammi
Cast: Caitlin Gerard, Julia Goldani Telles, Ashley Zukerman, Miles Anderson
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Emma Tammi’s feature debut opens with an impressionistic sequence, its events shuffled out of order. Two men wait outside a prairie house. A woman, Lizzy Macklin (Caitlin Gerard) emerges, her white smock covered in blood, carrying a baby wrapped in cloth – but while we hear the sound of the door creaking open, and of the wind, and eventually of the expectant father wailing, we do not hear the cry of the baby or a peep from the mother. Next we see Lizzy, midwife to this tragedy by virtue of being the only neighbour on this desolate plain, watching gravely as Gideon Harper (Dylan McTee) buries his wife, Emma (Julia Goldani Telles), and newborn alongside one another. “How did she get my gun?” Lizzy asks her own husband, Isaac (Ashley Zukerman), before he rides off with Gideon – Gideon leaving for good, Isaac for several days to get winter provisions form the nearest town. There is a flashback to Isaac telling Lizzy she has “to get the baby out”, and a flashforward to Lizzy cleaning up the bloody mess indoors – while the whole opening sequence is a more extensive kind of flashforward, showing events from the middle of the film’s narrative.
“You’ve got to keep your wits about you,” the departing Isaac tells Lizzy – but the choppy, fragmentary nature of the prologue, skipping this way and that with little regard for the conventions of chronology, reflects Lizzy’s dissociative state of mind. Once Isaac is gone, Lizzy finds herself beleaguered by wild wolves, but we are not even sure whether they are really there or just figments of a panicky imagination.
That parallel tracking of earlier and later scenes is ingrained in the narrative structure of The Wind, which traces Lizzy’s gradual unravelling, from the initial arrival of the Harpers at the place on the other side of the prairie to her lonely fragmentation after Emma’s death – and with even earlier flashbacks to the death in childbirth of Lizzy’s own son and her subsequent rejection of the Bible. In between comes the developing relationship between these two women, isolated not only by their geographic remoteness, but also by their marginal status in the God-fearing 19th-century frontier lands where men are very much at the head of the house. Emma misses the city, has a wandering eye for Isaac, and suffers from a mental illness which she can only understand in terms of contemporary religious discourse and its demonic flipside in fictive pamphlets. Soon Lizzy will have that illness too.
One can discern the influence of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook and Robert Eggers’ The Witch, as Tammi and screenwriter Teresa Sutherland focus intensely on the ravages of female alienation in a male-dominated world — but there are other kinds of influence here, with Emma’s madness transmitting itself to Lizzy, whether as possession by wind-borne devil or expression of abandonment. This is a sparse, despairing film, in which delusions are reified and tragedy is never, for all those wide-open plains, so very far away. “This land, there’s something wrong with it,” says Lizzy, as the vast empty historical landscapes around her are already being planted with the seeds of American patriarchy. In the annals of feminist genre filmmaking, this feels pioneering.