MIFF11 - JESS + MOSS Review

The Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) is in its glorious 60th year and below is a review for just one of many diverse films screening.


Jess (Sarah Hagan, who you might remember from Freaks and Geeeks) and Moss Austin Vickers) are teenagers; they spend a summer on a neglected farm in rustic Kentucky. It becomes clear that their families are absent, and it is slowly revealed as to why. The pair spends their time both in isolation and together exploring, playing, fighting, lamenting and trying to understand why they have been abandoned.

 

Jess + Moss is barely a narrative and plays more like a stream of consciousness. It is an ode to longing; for truth, memories and companionship, and is fueled by the psycho-sexual reciprocation from the two protagonists. It is at once both a playful and cruel paradigm of the most innocent of gatherings, where secrets are revealed and simmering, and repressed feelings are brought to light.

 

How Jess + Moss achieves this slow burn is through the ingenious use of memory. Like some sort of melancholic dream with scatters of blue sky Jess + Moss floats and weaves into different scenes, set in the same place, but often a different moment in time. Other than the ephemeral pace there are some more obvious techniques. Moss takes frequent daytime naps, listening to an old cassette of Mega Memory, a self help guru drones on about how you can increase your mind power ten fold, but for Moss this is a sanguine attempt to recall his parents, who perished long before his perceptions grew wary of them. Only his lessons and what Jess tells him keep him languid about learning the truth. Likewise with Jess, who, also in isolation listens to a home recorded tape of her moms casual lecturing and all the advice she should have given while she was there which includes the likes of 'stay away from boys'. This seems like an effort to curb the guilt of leaving her family.

 

Like the old cassettes they listen to, for differing reasons, Jess + Moss plays like a mix-tape; a jumbled and diverse blend of emotions on record and sometimes literally on rewind or fast-forward. These flash forwards and backs include voices both distant and near, recorded and live and to accommodate these dream like scenes the camera itself is jarringly altered which seems to enhance the power of memory and emotion when viewed through a different lens. The camera is also used to amazing effect by depicting the pseudo-sexual undercurrents Jess and Moss share. When Jess is viewing Moss the camera is between her legs when she is sitting or laying, he is centered due to this and although subtle, this is a very powerful technique that adds layers to their already abnormal friendship.

 

Amongst the dilapidated housing, sheds, tanks and stables Jess and Moss have created a mostly happy and care free place where the world is their oyster. These decrepit but safe buildings are a stark contrast to their separate and despairing home lives which are briefly glimpsed at. Jess seems to live with her uncaring father in relative squalor while Moss stays at his grand parents and does not relate to them or their beliefs, although he is just a kid so he tolerates it.

 

Within these memories and present musings Jess + Moss depicts two precious youths that are deeply troubled and ultimately traumatised. Moss refuses to accept his situation and fights against all pervasive elements including Jess, sometimes becoming violent, and lashing out at the surrounding they have created together over the summer. Jess is even more perturbed as she listens to her mother's voice and scolds herself by ritually beating her leg, as if somehow the familial plight is her fault. When together Jess and Moss have an unstable partnership; from frolicking in the sun drenched fields to fighting and yelling at each other. Oftentimes Jess cruelly demeans Moss and his family, she even locks him in a dark shed and the complex reasoning for this is a testament to her current state and the nonsensical ways people cope with rejection and neglect amidst boredom.

 

Jess + Moss is a very emotive film, what it lacks in a cohesive narrative it more than makes up for in the free roaming journey of the soul within time and place. It essentially takes the effort to portray abandonment and loss, and the intricacy of living as a child through trying times and without a suitable guardian. Amidst the happy and the sad, the trancelike lens probes the fringes of memory and wells up emotion that address very sensibly, issues of the heart and the mind.


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