SXSW FILM 2015
By Don Simpson | March 16, 2015
Directors: Robert Machoian, Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck
Writer: Robert Machoian
Starring: Harper Graham, Elias Graham, Ezra Graham, Jonah Graham, Arri Graham, Bruce Graham
Five young kids — Harper (Harper Graham), Elias (Elias Graham), Ezra (Ezra Graham), Jonah (Jonah Graham) and Arri (Arri Graham) — have been left at home to fend for themselves. In the early frames of the film, we see their mother’s car speed away from the house. The kids have no idea when she will return, but they are so calm about their mother’s disappearance it quickly becomes apparent that this is a fairly common occurrence.
As the oldest sibling, Harper has acclimated to the surrogate mother role of the household. She takes care of her younger brothers, trying to give them the love and attention that they so desperately need; but Harper is young and the four boys are quite a handful. The hellions descend into a state of anarchy, doing and saying whatever they want. As long as they get the basic human necessities of food and sleep, the boys will most likely continue to enjoy this state of absolute freedom.
Steadfastly abiding by the neorealist tradition, Robert Machoian and Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck’s God Bless the Child utilizes non-professional actors to capture the brutal subtleties of everyday life. The situations and performances are so relentlessly real that God Bless the Child plays more like a cinema verite documentary than a traditional narrative. By filming the children in familiar locales, Machoian and Ojeda-Beck establish a naturalistic environment to capture a purely fictionalized story; the fact that these are Machoian’s children further explains the unbridled authenticity that has been captured in this film. Machoian clearly knows the limits of his children, but as some of the more intense and potentially dangerous scenarios play out, it can be difficult to remember that several responsible adults are hovering just out of frame. The perceived brutality of one particular scene can be quite disconcerting, but the audience’s cringes and gasps only serve to quantify Machoian and Ojeda-Beck’s masterful representation of reality within this fictional framework.
Though the household’s economics are never overtly discussed, God Bless the Child captures the inherent desperation of poverty as Harper is left with little money and dwindling food supplies to care for her siblings. But God Bless the Child is not about politics or economics, it is about a mother abandoning her children. Machoian and Ojeda-Beck do not attempt to proselytize or even explain the causes of this situation; instead, they use narrative ambiguity to entice their audience to contemplate why a mother would abandon her five young children without parental supervision and question where she might have gone.
Serving as a bookend to their equally brilliant Forty Years from Yesterday, Machoian and Ojeda-Beck turn their focus from aging and death to the unadulterated freedom of youth. In both films, Machoian and Ojeda-Beck capture pure emotions via a cinematic tapestry of visual moods and tones rather than relying upon expository dialog or the swelling orchestration of a musical score. Both films are minimalist masterpieces that commendably limit the use of post production flourishes in the name of realism. Neither film has any star power to attract audiences and their subjects are not by definition “entertaining,” but they deserve to be seen nonetheless.