Review: ‘The Unspeakable Act’

Incest is the ostensible subject of Dan Sallitt's serenely non-scandalous film, although far from being "unspeakable," the act turns out to exist solely in the realm of speech.

Incest is the ostensible subject of Dan Sallitt’s serenely non-scandalous film, although far from being “unspeakable,” the act turns out to exist solely in the realm of speech. As a precocious teen who, in puzzling her way through the confusion of adolescence, endlessly verbalizes her love for her brother, Tallie Medel gives a performance that perfectly complements the film around it; its fixed-camera, long-take aesthetic feels as direct and unpretentious as its singular star. Coming eight years after Sallitt’s well-received “All the Ships at Sea,” the pic reps a breakthrough for the critic-turned-helmer-scribe.

Much of the film’s action unfolds within the confines of a quaintly bohemian Brooklyn house that Jackie Kimball (Medel) describes as her “native country,” and shares with the object of her obsession, older bro Matthew (Sky Hirschkron). Also in residence are Jackie’s off-on-her-own older sister, Jeanne (Kati Schwartz), and their tall, thin, ascetic-looking mother (Aundrea Fares). Mom used to be a drug addict, writes endlessly in her journal, rarely speaks and, according to Jackie’s intermittent voiceover narration, seems almost as enamored with her absent eldest son, Will, as Jackie is with Matthew. Small, round-shouldered, black-haired and verbose, often half-hidden in hoodies, Jackie almost seems like a changeling in the family.

Jackie and Matthew, thick as thieves, enjoy an almost twin-like rapport even though they look nothing alike. Stretched out on the bed or perched on the windowsill, puffing on cigarettes (until they jointly decide to quit smoking), they exchange their thoughts and experiences, holding back nothing. Matthew returns Jackie’s affection but passes on any sexual expression of their intimacy.

When Matthew goes off to Princeton, Jackie mopes around, rudderless, finally succumbing to her mother’s urging that she see a shrink, perhaps less out of desperation than curiosity. Jackie’s daytime sessions with Linda (Caroline Luft), replacing her nightly meetings with Matthew, and their scenes together with questions and answers ricocheting back and forth, rank among the film’s biggest pleasures.

The directness of the camera’s gaze mirrors the wide-eyed openness with which Jackie reveals or hides her inner-thoughts. Linda’s face, wonderfully expressive if professionally impenetrable, portrays a different, equally compelling form of interrogation. A vague sense of shared ironic consciousness floats over the proceedings, suggesting that behind Linda’s opaque surface lurks a complicity that can only be articulated at some future point in Jackie’s maturation. The ghost of Eric Rohmer, whom Sallitt has admitted is one of his strongest influences, is perhaps most visible during these exchanges.

Lenser Duraid Munajim’s compositions, imbued with quasi-painterly flatness, impart a certain tranquility to the film’s putative subject matter, so that even Jackie’s awkward (non-incestuous) deflowering in the front seat of a car registers as yet another pleasant new experience.

The Unspeakable Act


A Static production. Produced by Shari Berman, Ania Trzebiatowska, Jaime Christley. Directed, written, edited by Dan Sallitt.


Camera (color, HD), Duraid Munajim; production designer, Bridget Rafferty; sound, David Groman. Reviewed on DVD, New York, Feb. 24, 2013. Running time: 91 MIN.


Tallie Medel, Caroline Luft, Sky Hirschkron, Aundrea Fares, Kati Schwartz.
Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 0

Leave a Reply

No Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

More Film News from Variety