The Zebra and the Fly (Chris Gervais, 2020)

Reviewed by Avant-Garde Film Index

Most noticeable about The Zebra and the Fly (2020) is the nice use of sound, starting, as the film does, on black leader: instrumental music punctuated by abrupt moments of silence, clips of recorded audio messages, and (what feels like) scripted voiceover. The agitation of the subsequent sequence – overexposed footage from a moving camera of houses, blue sky – coalesces to black again, before cutting to a muddy black-and-white still image of what looks to be first responders investigating a school bus without its bus; a dreadful sight. The visuals soften to seemingly innocuous tableaux of twilit woods, deserted back roads, voided locales, which contrast with the intensity of the voiceover content – the breeze moving through the natural world the only clue that, while the camera is static, the image is not. Most striking, at about 3:57, an empty and somewhat rundown baseball diamond.  Like a bizarre inspirational calendar – the imagetrack is inviting, almost soothing, while the soundtrack details sadness, anger, confusion. The film dances around the tragedy, never actually fully clarifying the details, a complicated kind of suspense enveloping the viewer, especially as the audio reveals a disgust for town outsiders who, agog, can’t fully comprehend the town’s pain. There is a compelling edit around the 9:06 mark, when the filmmaker cuts from a tended graveyard hugging the right side of the screen to a classic red brick building (presumably a school) occupying the left side of the screen – as if the school and the graveyard interlock, share space. Ultimately, a film that communicates the messiness and unfolding of grief, hope always tinged by hurt, calm by discomfort.

The Zebra and the Fly (Chris Gervais, 2020)

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