- Movie Rating -

Bitterbrush (2022)

| October 18, 2022

I am, what you might call, the indoorsy type.  I am a land lover, a city-dweller, a home-body.  When I am outside too long, I start to get anxious to be back inside with my creature comforts: my couch, my computer, my movies, etc.  My immediate future involves watching Black Adam and getting a few inches closer to finishing the “LEGO Marvel Superheroes 2” video game.  I realize how pathetic this sounds, but I know that I am not alone.  I am bound to far too many material goods and I know that should this civilization cease to exist; I would have a Helluva time reverting back to the self-sustaining means of my ancestors.  Oh, I could do it.  But, it would mean giving up Taco Tuesday, and mentally that’s a tough hill to climb.

Given that patted lifestyle, I sort of envy people like Hollyn Patterson and Colie Moline, the center of Emelie Mahdavian’s meditative documentary Bitterbrush, who work as range riders who herd cattle in the unincorporated plains of the Midwest.  These young woman are intenerate and the movie is as much about who they are as what they do.

We are on the range with these two for nearly the entire film and we get to know them and the hazards they face.  We are alarmed at the very beginning as they try and load one of their horses into a trailer and it is clear that the beast clearly does not want to go.  The horse kicks and bucks and finally gives in, but the girls aren’t cruel, they let it resign itself to its fate.  In a sense Hollyn feels the same way.  Out on the range, they find a house where they can stay, and they are overjoyed since he means that they don’t have to spend the winter in a camper.  She laughs nervously as she makes a joke about having a wife to cook for her, then realizing that such a life is simply not in her nature.

Nature itself is the theme here.  Hollyn and Colie are surrounded by animals all the time, and they regard them not as lesser beasts but more like unruly children.  Yet, there is decency and humanity to their approach.  Don’t misunderstand, they don’t so much put themselves on the same level with the animals in their charge, but there is a sense that we know that we are still the dominate species.  It is inevitable that these animals will fall under the reigns of human beings, but also inevitable that Hollyn and Colie communicate with them on their own terms.

What you take away from this film are the stunning vistas, a mountainous landscape free of skyscrapers, fast food, and strip malls, a landscape untouched by man and occupied by pair of women who probably couldn’t or would survive the urban landscape.  There are images in this film that I am not going to forget, the most stunning is Hollyn riding through a snowstorm, the wide brim of her hat pulled down over her face.  But I also remember the quiet moments; the meals, the moments in between the work, a meal in which they make lunch from flattened bread that they have put into their saddlebags topped with pre-packed tuna, and a Pepsi shared between them.  It sounds strange to be so dazzled by such an ordinary thing, but this is a film that finds beauty in the little things, away from civilization, away from the hand of man.  It’s remarkable.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2022) View IMDB Filed in: Documentary