Intended as a thoughtful examination of depression and despair among the economically disadvantaged, “Strange Fruit” proves too diffuse and elliptical to be of more than academic interest. Subject may generate enough curiosity to ensure wide fest exposure, but even sympathetic auds will note meandering pic’s inability to provide fresh insight or emotional catharsis.
Taking his title from the classic Billie Holiday song about Deep South lynchings, filmmaker Regis Trigano considers the tragedy of Ray Golden, a 32-year-old African-American whose hanging death is judged a suicide by officials in the Florida backwater of Belle Glade. While Golden’s skeptical relatives push for independent investigation, Trigano intercuts with scenes from day-to-day life in the nearby housing project where Shirley, an obese and unemployed mother of seven, worries about her son Keith, a depressed youngster who admits to suicidal urgings. It’s a bit too obvious Trigano wants auds to recognize in Keith’s fatalism the early stages of a toxic despair that could have overwhelmed Golden. (Evidence indicates Golden actually did kill himself.) Unfortunately, efforts to make connections between two case studies feel forced. Tech values are spotty.