directed by Robert Greene
by Angelo Muredda "It wasn't just the character," Brandy Burre muses in voiceover as she watches herself in the kitchen in an artfully-framed dishwashing scene during the opening moments of Robert Greene's Actress: "It's me. I tend to break things." That's an appropriately wily introduction to a documentary that adroitly blends domestic melodrama, biography, and sociological study. "Brandy Burre is Actress," the surprisingly ostentatious (for nonfiction) title card announces, and so it goes: Burre stars as herself, a Master's-holding former supporting player from "The Wire" who took a break from acting after the birth of her first child, and who now seeks to get back in the game at a moment when her long-term relationship appears to be breaking apart like the dishware.
Although there's something a bit predetermined about the conceit that Burre's professional and personal selves should take her into separate spheres, credit must go to Greene and Burre for playing with the seeming writtenness of her character, whose bifurcated life pulls her in multiple directions at once, like Irene Jacob's set of doppelgängers in The Double Life of Veronique. After all, Burre is not just a subject but a consummate performer as well, which the film is careful to remind us of in cheeky moments where her confessionals are recited, then repeated with the slightest variations--her life is a script undergoing fine-tuning in real-time. The result is somewhere between the accidental wonder of a good vérité documentary--as when we pan across a train Burre has just boarded, running counter to its direction as it rapidly accelerates--and the woozy beauty of a Terence Davies romance. The latter is most felt in a mesmerizing slow-motion tracking shot following Burre from the kitchen to the staircase, her progress halted by her daughter passing her a plastic coat hanger, of all things. We tilt as she raises it, the mundane object momentarily transformed into something like the Holy Grail.