Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy
by Tracey Moffatt
Short film, video art
A glass frieze spans a large, luminous dining room. A faultless sky can be seen outside, arcing over the rocky horizon and the swathes of sand. But rather than creating a light, open space, the expansive landscape is an occluding presence. The atmosphere seems pressed to the windows, bearing the same blue as airless cellophane clinging to acrylic. The wider set resembles a theatrical workshop, its sheened floorboards strewn with props. The suffocating stage is occupied by two women: one resentful, the other ailing, both competing for oxygen.
In the second act, the memory of a familial seaside scene is summoned. A woman swings a child over the waves of a monochrome projection, repeating a lifeless, mechanised motion. A filmic foam evokes the tide, sea spray soaking only celluloid. Like archive footage or the re-enactment of a crime, the vignette has the sense of an imperfect recollection. The present is clearer cut. As the younger figure violently scrubs cloths clean in a pail of flinching water, her foot collides with the bucket in a pointedly metaphorical act.
Words by Elizabeth Brown
The camera pans across a rundown house, pausing to linger on a pair of women: one elderly and white, the other a young Aboriginal Australian. We are given the time to speculate about their relationship, then the lens pulls back to reveal the family photographs of mother and child propped up on the mantelpiece. As sole carer for her frail parent, the daughter is prone to frustration, her outbursts tempered by dreamlike childhood flashbacks that piece together a relationship complicated by both race and absence.
The physical setting of Night Cries evades naturalism. The flat blue of the cloudless sky, the painted mountainous landscape, and the polished floor all point to signs of manmade construction. As our eye is drawn to the vast expanse of geographical nothingness that acts as a background, we share the isolation of the two inhabitants situated within it. Despite the women’s intimacy, the division between them is apparent, amplified when the gulf of silence is shattered by cries that ring out, unanswered, across the mountains.
Words by Katherine Fieldgate
More to discover
You can watch Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy here, or read a short biography of Tracey Moffatt on the Tate website. Meaghan Morris has written an academic article about the film, which can be read on Rouge or on Google Books (from page 105).
E. Ann Kaplan has also written about the film in her book 'Trauma Culture', an excerpt from which is available on Google Books (from page 130). A brief post by Peter H. Kemp is available on the Senses of Cinema website.
Question of the day
For the audience, yes. Memories of experiencing a work become integral, and may even influence future interactions with the piece.
– Eric A. Anderson, game developer and world-builder for the Myst series, Obduction, and The Witness (via The Brief →)