Thursday, November 16, 2023

A tone poem set in the rural South

 Writer/director Raven Jackson makes her debut with the poetic All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt, a movie that dispenses pungent fragments of story while serving up maximum helpings of atmosphere and African-American culture. Jackson gives tactile life to her look at young Mackenzie (Kaylee Nicole Johnson), a kid who grows to maturity in the rural South. Don’t let that synopsis fool you, All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt avoids linear progression, allowing sensation to dominate, often through the use of exaggerated close-ups that demand immersive attention. Sometimes, Mackenzie helps guide us through the story. At one point, she watches her mother and father (Sheila Atim and Chris Chalk) dancing tenderly in their living room, losing themselves in each other's embrace. Three additional actresses — Mylee Shannon, Charleen McClure, and Zainab Jah — play Mackenzie as she advances toward  womanhood. Exchanges between Mackenzie and her sister (Jaya Henry) add a playful dimension to the world Jackson creates. Some of Jackson’s imagery — thunderstorms or close-ups of hands, for example — become repetitive and Jackson's bypass of exposition can blur the line between immersion and disorientation.  I’ve read that the movie’s title stems from the transplant to the American South of an African practice, finding particles of clay to eat, perhaps a suggestive way of saying that Jackson's characters are inseparable from the corner of the world they inhabit. Jackson treats life as a kind of nourishing soil that we can run our fingers through; though not always fully realized, Dirt Road hits its share of evocative and memorable notes.

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