‘Gray House’ Review: Austin Lynch’s Moody Documentary-Art Fusion

What initially seems most inscrutable about “Gray House” — its simmering, stuttering aesthetics, its blend of straight-arrow documentary testimony and languidly constructed visual art, the disorienting presence of Denis Lavant in a Texas backwater — falls a little more into place once you consider its pedigree. This quietly arresting first feature by Austin Lynch, son of David, certainly lives up to the family name in its cultivated, charcoal-hued strangeness, but happily reveals a stark creative sensibility inherited from no clear source. Viewers are given few overt clues as to how to join the dots between the film’s heartfelt interviews with male oil-field workers and female prisoners, along with more abstract digressions across the American class spectrum, but vivid, lowering atmosphere proves the binding element between them. Following its world premiere at CPH:DOX, where it received a special jury mention, “Gray House” should extensively engage gray matter on the festival circuit.

Fourteen minutes pass before a single word is spoken in “Gray House” — and this extent of silence is apt in a film that, through its disconnected segments, examines both the beauty and despair of human solitude. Scarcely a shot here is occupied by more than one body; many are wholly unpeopled, though the evidence of human habitation haunts some of Lynch’s sparsest tableaux. Shot against a blank white background, interview subjects are expressly divorced from the environments they talk about; for balance, man-made spaces of industry and residence are frequently shown in states of ghostly desertion. Even men and women are mostly separated in Lynch’s film, which segues at the midway point from a predominantly male to female point of view. Population is thus broken down into its smallest individual units throughout the film, while the separating spaces between us are darkly foregrounded.

Where to begin a portrait of an alienated America,…

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