A woman's face fills the screen. An American flag waves behind her. She's on your TV. "When a leaf on a plant rots, you have to prune it or the plant will die," she states adamantly. "If America is a plant, radical left ideology is the disease that’s killing it." She stares into your soul. Phrases like "indoctrinated," "cult of moral purity," "fascists," and "authoritarian tolerance" come at the viewer as if shot from a gun.
Strong words. Strong premise. The woman is Sami Geller, and she's a right-wing media pundit in Pruning, directed by musician/filmmaker Lola Blanc. Based on that opening, one might expect a hard-hitting indictment of our combative political climate, that Sami's words will lead to either a crisis of conscience or a call to action during the film.
Which as it turns out isn't very long. Pruning runs a prim 14 minutes.
From the TV screen, we are invited into Sami's life. Sami lives within all-white rooms with walls so bare they border on OCD. She frequently runs in dark woods. When a mass murderer takes the name The Gardener in tribute to Sami's diatribes, she begins to experience sinister visions, stark hallucinations that bring her dream life into the everyday.
Sami is played with great energy by Madeline Brewer, memorable in Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale as the one-eyed Janine Lindo. Brewer is Pruning's greatest asset: her angular features, blonde hair, and piercing eyes make Sami's transition from firebrand to deer in the headlights convincing.
Director Lola Blanc writes and performs music and makes music videos. She's a strong stylist, adept at making a strong impression in a quick hit of time. But she doesn’t allow herself enough time to stretch out here and compose a unique vision. She goes for shock over substance, relying on instant recognition and knee-jerk emotions derived from other films. In Pruning we get Kubrick's iciness, Fincher's green tinge, Garland's techno/nature fetishism, dashes of (cleaned up) Lynch, and the visual vacuity of perfume commercials.
It's no spoiler to say that while it tells a linear narrative, Pruning is abstract and open to interpretation. Sami's fate can be seen as tragic or triumphant, depending on who's watching it.
Short-form cinema rules in the age of Tik Tok. But this is also the age of divisive political discourse that requires you to be clear and take a side. Otherwise, the discourse is simply a device, an empty motif that serves no side at all.
Pruning. Written and directed by Lola Blanc. Released by Shark Party Media, 2023. 14 minutes.