Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Celia Rowlson-Hall in MA
"Director Celia Rowlson-Hall, a dancer and choreographer, is able to make visible through movement what harms the soul."

The letters of the title MA, three peaks of which the last is crossed, lead us into the sand dunes of the unconscious. This is a film without verbal dialogue that conveys a great deal of physical communication. Never does the lack of spoken words feel restrictive. People could talk at any moment, it feels, and it comes as a strange, enchanting relief that they don't and instead express themselves with their bodies. Director Celia Rowlson-Hall, a dancer and choreographer, is able to make visible through movement what harms the soul. This is not Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist that has to follow a once-established obstruction.

At the start, a 21st Century Virgin Mary (Rowlson-Hall), wearing an oversized pale pink T-shirt, a white hotel towel on her head and red cowboy boots on her feet, emerges from the American desert. She hitches a ride successfully, not quite, but somewhat, in the tradition of Claudette Colbert's heroine of Frank Capra's 1934 comedy It Happened One Night or Uma Thurman's long-thumbed traveller in Gus Van Sant's 1993 Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. But MA really shares more with Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, as the redness of her boots reveals.

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She travels on the hood of the car like a mosquito pressed against the windshield, a silent siren or nautical figurehead of the sand, a misfit saint on a mission inwards that leads into her own body first to eventually bring the world a new Saviour girl.

A man credited as Daniel (Andrew Pastides) is the distracted driver of the car from Kansas. He pulls an umbilical-cord-like stuffing out of the tailpipe and later shares moments of monkeying around and snake-charming with MA. He may share some characteristics with the biblical Joseph, who does his best to help the pregnant Virgin Mary by his side, but he isn't named Daniel for nothing.

Associations with Daniel in the lions' den may come to mind or the tale of Susanna, in which Daniel saves a young girl's reputation after she had been falsely accused of being unchaste while, in actuality, she had refused her powerful accusers' advances.

Cinematographer Ian Bloom can make us enter a pre-Raphaelite painting one moment and feel symbolic brain-freeze from a free-falling cherry slushy just as convincingly.

In a remarkable scene in a motel room in front of a television blasting white noise (sound design Tim Korn and Keller McDivitt), different genres of entertainment invade MA's body, just the way, at another point in time, sand invades the painting of a magical clearing in a forest that could be the backdrop for an early Disney cartoon.

She bends from being shot by invisible crime thriller bullets, laughs with the comedians and becomes one with the programmes being consumed by her. When she resembles Janet Leigh at the start of Psycho - from the, at the time shocking, shots showing the heroine in her underwear in a hotel room in Phoenix, Arizona - MA's playful experimentation with reality is broken into by seven men.

They are dressed (costumes Allison Pearce) as waggish versions of a cowboy (Matt Lauria), a policeman (Kentucker Audley), a businessman (Neal Bledsoe), a lifeguard (William Connell), GI Joe (Jason Kittelberger, who also performs a nimble fall from grace on the dunes), a giant (George McArthur) and a priest (Peter Vack) - and make the walls collapse and the world crumble as they impose themselves onto her and cut her long braid of hair. The rhythmic editing by Iva Radivojevic drops us off for a few moments into the sphere of a cherry-popping motel receptionist (Amy Seimetz).

With a fantastic score by Brian McOmber, MA is a must-see for all who love Pina Bausch's way of storytelling. It sings the advantages of wearing three pairs of white knee socks at once, pushes the idea of recycling organic material to a new level, and overall makes you want to move in the world more fearlessly. With a lot of humour, sympathy and grace, this film is a plea to think your own thoughts and not be intimidated by times that place more value on gummy dinosaurs than open hands with an offering of lentils for those in need.

Nevada showgirls and a tiny Amazing Grace singing Queen Victoria lookalike (Gabrielle Vance) shepherd in a new beginning.

In the end, Celia Rowlson-Hall's breath-givingly beautiful and immaculately provocative debut feature MA is an exploration of virtue, womanhood and the performative nature of both.

Reviewed on: 16 Jan 2017
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In this modern-day vision of Mother Mary’s pilgrimage, a woman crosses the American Southwest, deconstructing the world around her.

Director: Celia Rowlson-Hall

Writer: Celia Rowlson-Hall

Starring: Celia Rowlson-Hall, Andrew Pastides, Amy Seimetz, Jason Kittelberger, Neal Bledsoe, Matt Lauria, Kentucker Audley, Peter Vack, William Connell, George McArthur, Gabrielle Vance, Bobbi Jene Smith, Emma Ruth Quigley

Year: 2015

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: US

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