Magazine article Artforum International

Army Camp: Melissa Anderson on Benjamin Crotty's Fort Buchanan

Magazine article Artforum International

Army Camp: Melissa Anderson on Benjamin Crotty's Fort Buchanan

Article excerpt

SOAPY, SEXED-UP, AND ANARCHIC, Benjamin Crotty's Fort Buchanan may be the only military-spouses comic melodrama as indebted to the Lifetime channel as it is to the oeuvre of Eric Rohmer. Despite these pronounced influences, though, Crotty's riotous feature debut is stamped with a wholly distinct sensibility, one that's simultaneously ludic, queer, mercurial, and concupiscent.

Like his movie, a fruitful (and fruity) amalgam of histrionic American TV and Gallic auteur cinema, Crotty is a binational hybrid: Born in Spokane, Washington, and educated in the US, the writer-director earned an advanced degree in film and video at Le Fresnoy, in northern France, and has been based in that country for the past decade or so. The redoubt of his film's title is located in a forest in Lorraine (though no outpost of that name exists in France, there is a US Army garrison in Puerto Rico called Fort Buchanan). Spanning winter, spring, summer, and fall--a cycle that's clearly a nod to Rohmer's "Tales of the Four Seasons" (1990-98)--and shot on sumptuous 16 mm, Fort Buchanan contains an even more explicit salute to the Nouvelle Vague founder: The film's central character, Roger, the nurse-trained husband of Djibouti-stationed Lt. Col. Frank Sherwood (David Baiot), with whom he has a teenage daughter, is played by Andy Gillet, the epicene star of The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (2007), Rohmer's last movie.

First seen sporting stubble and a flannel shirt and expertly wielding an ax in the snow-covered camp, Gillet's Roger is a decidedly butcher character than the pretty, ephebic, cross-dressing fifth-century shepherd he portrayed in Rohmer's film. But both roles call for fragility and swoony romanticism: Roger pines for Frank, his spouse of eighteen years, and frets that his beloved may have lost all interest in him. Compounding Roger's emotional duress is the increasing recalcitrance of daughter Roxy (Iliana Zabeth), an eighteen-year-old he's essentially raising by himself: She settles disputes with her dad (well, one of them) by socking him in the face.

This punch, thrown within the first three of Fort Buchanan's zippy sixty-five minutes, typifies the film's humor, a mix of perfectly timed slapstick (a tumble down the stairs, toxic gas being released in the background of a verdant landscape) and hilarious sight gags (an extreme close-up of a mouth biting into a chocolate chip cookie; Roger's garish puffer coat, something Klimt might have designed for an ice-dancing competition). But Fort Buchanan's consistent drollery is also a product of the movie's dialogue, which was created in a highly unconventional way. …

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