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Review: 'Actress' is an intimate experimental documentary about someone from 'The Wire'

Brandy Burre gets a striking look at her attempts to make a comeback after retiring to be a mom.
Brandy Burre

Brandy Burre, known for playing campaign fixer Theresa D'Agostino on season two ofCinema Guild

‘Actress’
Director:
Robert Greene
Star: Brandy Burre
Rating: NR
4 (out of 5) Globes

You might remember Brandy Burre from “The Wire.” She was Theresa D’Agostino, Tommy Carcetti’s cheerfully aggressive campaign fixer. Some semi-careful camera angles were able to obscure that Burre was pregnant at the time of filming; when she gave birth she bid farewell to the acting profession and moved to pretty but vacant-seeming Beacon, New York with her partner, restauranteur Tim Reinke. In “Actress” — an experimental documentary made by her former neighbor, filmmaker Robert Greene — she’s a suburban SAHM of two itching to get back into a business she left because she felt, in only her mid-20s, she had outgrown it, which you can interpret as you will.

That contradiction is typical of “Actress,” which is neither a mere infomercial nor a facile “Is this real or not?” puzzle. Sometimes it’s open about what’s staged; other times the answer is fuzzy, unsolvable. Greene peppers the film with slow-motion tableaux that find Burre doing the dishes, holding court in the kitchen or bathing in shower spray. We perhaps can’t be sure how real Burre’s breakup with Reinke is until it’s over; Greene’s camera is there to film her at a Manhattan Bridge rendezvous, or to watch Reinke — largely slinking through scenes, trying not to be caught — in awkward moments as he comes home after hours or drops by to pick up the kids.

What does become clear is that this is a film about the fluidity of performance, whether conscious or not. At one point Burre jaunts into the city to sing, but she’s equally performing at home, her roles being a mother and a partner, or even as a documentary star. Early on there’s the scene that should be the token one where she catches viewers up to speed with her life. Instead she appears to be practicing stating her name and history, repeating the same facts over and over. As her isolation appears to grow, Greene’s camera becomes a pal and a confessional. Indeed, in the film’s second half the clearly staged sequences lower in frequency while Burre’s direct addresses grow, present to represent what looks like some degree of a breakdown.

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Filmed by Greene himself with a variety of approaches, “Actress” never tips its hat as to what and how much has been staged, but Burre’s plight is moving all the same. Greene’s camera becomes a friend who helps out by both listening to her grievances and stealthily granting her her wish. The very existence of “Actress,” as well as it’s appearance in theaters, is in itself a comeback, and one that makes her more than that one woman from that one season of “The Wire.” Even when, late in, she may have turned to oversharing, Burre is highly likable and amusingly, brutally honest; at one point she laughs through the grim realities of what a breakup means for people who not only share children but a home — who’s going to mow the lawn? Who’s going to fix house problems? She’s torn between the tedious realities of life and the need to find artistic expression — a desire that tends to defy logic and practical planning. But “Actress” understands that sometimes art-making is the only way we can feel human.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
 
 
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