DOMESTIC VIOLENCE shows the Tampa, Florida, police responding to domestic violence calls and the work of The Spring, the principal shelter in Tampa for women and children. Sequences with the police include police response, intervention, and attempted resolution of domestic violence calls. Sequences at the shelter include intake interviews, individual counseling sessions, anger management training, group therapy, staff meetings, conversations among clients and between clients and staff, and school activities, therapy and counseling for children at the shelter.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE is one of Frederick Wiseman’s greatest films, balanced between the grand, meditative viewpoint of the recent work and the intense focus of a JUVENILE COURT…Like any good Wiseman film, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE is dense with unforgettable images, passages and vignettes: a meeting of counselors hacking their way through the thicket of hopelessly tangled emotions between a recently admitted family; a group of very proper old ladies led on a tour through the facility, gasping at every horrifying statistic and detail; and perhaps most unforgettable of all, an old woman, recently arrived at the shelter, who has retreated into a protective world of her own.
–Kent Jones, Film Comment
The film plays as a linear progression, taking place over the course of weeks or months. We follow a number of women and their children as they move out of abusive situations and into a shelter, where they begin to take control of their lives. On another level, the film plays as a cycle, which seems (through clever editing) to take place over the course of one day. We start by visiting scenes of abuse in the hours after dawn; we end at night, with one more devastating episode of violence.
You’ve heard all this before: Abuse begets more abuse. You can mouth the sentence as you would the brief, bland syllables of Wiseman’s title. But here, underlying the words, is experience. You see women with scars on their faces, scabs across the nose, bruises on the arms. You learn about a terror that was so intense, its victim was willing to live with half her face reduced to a pulp rather than leave the man who took a crowbar to her. The language of psychological uplift isn’t stale to these women, who bear in their flesh the marks of low self-esteem. The words they learn at The Spring are a revelation to them, and a potential lifeline to their children.
–Stuart Klawans, The Nation
We think we know these families until one woman talks about her husband’s contempt for her education, which includes a doctorate. With that brief fact, dropped simply into conversation as the woman describes her life to a crisis counselor, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE immediately shocks us out of our complacency.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE is ultimately the most compassionate of all the Wiseman films. We come out of it feeling that change is possible, even as the film circles back to where it started.
–Elvis Mitchell, The New York Times
No physical violence happens on screen. But violence, physical and emotional, reverberates through everything Mr. Wiseman shows. It can be seen in the stricken, sometimes pulpy faces of the women being interviewed by police officers, social workers and judges. It can be felt in their wariness and disorientation and in their anger as the tales of abuse pour out.
Mr. Wiseman doesn’t home in on these emotional climaxes. The most powerful moments can rise unexpectedly and break over you, then recede with almost fearful speed. They surprise the viewer because they surprise the people on the screen.
–David Edelstein, The New York Times
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE examines the ambiguous nature of human bonds, the nightmare versions of romance and family love. Virtually all the people we see, male and female, insist that they love the ones they torment.
–David Denby, The New Yorker
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Educationalincludes public performance rights
released 2001, 196 minutes
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