There’s a deceptive simplicity to Simone Rapisarda Casanova’s “The Strawberry Tree,” which makes its highly considered p.o.v. especially refreshing. Turning the usual ethnographic docu on its head, the debuting helmer went to a remote Cuban fishing village in 2008 and filmed the inhabitants without attempting to disguise his presence, forcing auds to keep in mind that every nonfiction pic, no matter how invisible the director, is part subject, part creator. Rapisarda Casanova’s low-key approach could easily slip under the radar but should be championed at fests.
The village of Juan Antonio, on the northeastern coast, was obliterated by Hurricane Ike less than one month after shooting wrapped, turning “Tree” into an even more vital reminder of the responsibilities filmmakers have to be aware of their role as mediator. Rapisarda Casanova developed a playful relationship with the locals, who tease him: “What a boring shot of the old lady grinding coffee,” jokes one woman as she pounds beans. The opening is a post-hurricane interview with four former residents, but the bulk of the pic, handsomely lensed with a painterly graininess, self-reflexively records daily life in a place that no longer exists.