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Shy People (free)

  • Chazen Museum of Art 750 University Avenue Madison, WI, 53706 United States (map)

Andrei Konchalovsky’s 1987 film is among the most accomplished from the golden era of Cannon Films. Info

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Cannon Films made its reputation in the 1980s as one of American cinema’s finest purveyors of lurid, trashy films. What makes this golden era persist in the minds of cinephiles today is that some of these films were, despite their budget and subject matter, actually quite good. Case in point: Andrei Konchalovsky’s 1987 film Shy People. Sure, the Southern Gothic canon is full of easy stereotypes about the region, but those other films don’t have this one’s sticky Tangerine Dream score, or expertly fog-laden cinematography by Chris Menges.

Shy People follows Diana and Grace, a cosmopolitan mother and daughter (Jill Clayburgh and Martha Plimpton), as they attempt to reconnect with their estranged family in an especially isolated part of the Louisiana bayou. Culture clashes abound as they meet the remaining family, led by a ruthless matriarch, Ruth (Barbara Hershey), and learn a variety of sordid secrets about her clan. That the film doesn’t stay in the mind as a purely exploitative take on bayou living is a testament to its level of craft on all fronts. In addition to the technical achievements mentioned above, Barbara Hershey’s performance telegraphs the tension of her family’s dynamic, and thus drives the tension of the film around it. How do you confront the trauma you’ve perpetuated without understanding that which you’ve received? How does one define the self in complete isolation from society? We see these questions play out in Hershey’s alternately subtle and barn-burning performance, one which deservedly won her the Best Actress prize at Cannes. —Maxwell Courtright