Monrovia, Indiana (2018; Dir.: Frederick Wiseman)
By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, November 9, at the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco and the Rialto Elmwood in Berkeley.
Living legend Frederick Wiseman (In Jackson Heights; Ex Libris) brings his democratic approach to documentaries to the heart of Trump America in Monrovia, Indiana. As usual, instead of relying on scripted talking-head interviews or trying to force a fake conflict down on our throats, Wiseman simply observes. His film captures the people of Monrovia at their jobs and schools, at their places of worship, at their ceremonies and celebrations (an incredibly awkward Masonic Lodge meeting becomes an unlikely centerpiece sequence) and at their public meetings, gradually forming a portrait of a community and its institutions. A minuscule Central Indiana farming town with less than 1,000 people, Monrovia appears to be perched on the edge of oblivion, torn between an aging citizenry that is hostile to change and the economic realities of the modern world. Wiseman doesn’t explicitly condemn or deify any of his subjects or allow for any kind of forced rhetoric (because that would be fake), which some critics have interpreted as a glorification of small-town small-mindedness, but such misinterpretation is the risk you run when you don’t tell people exactly what to think. Admittedly, Monrovia, Indiana isn’t the meatiest Wiseman effort, but even minor Wiseman provides major cinematic nourishment for the soul.