Director: Celia Rowlson-Hall
Year of release: 2017
Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Celia Rowlson-Hall's Ma is not your typical Biblical allegory. The dancer/choreographer/actor/director colors outside the lines in order to fashion a narratively obtuse, dialogue-free riff on the pilgrimage of the Virgin Mary. Simultaneously beautiful and baffling, Rowlson-Hall's idiosyncratic experiment is like watching a surrealist dance troupe put on a Nativity play for their cinephile friends, which is either daring or laughably pretentious, depending on one's perspective.
One thing is for sure; as the scantily-clad Madonna walking stoically through the American Southwest, Rowlson-Hall is a magnetic onscreen presence; using her body in the most unusually inventive ways, whether that be undulating across cheap motel carpets or falling backwards in slow motion. Her film too, which involves the Madonna being picked up by a traveling Joseph analogue (Andrew Pastides) driving an Oldsmobile, is unusual in ways that are often silly, but always fascinating.
There's a baptism, an implied gang rape, an apparent gender switch, a cherry popping motel clerk played by Amy Seimetz, and a sequence where people wander through a barren desert landscape carrying motel furniture and other appliances. All the while, Las Vegas looms on the horizon as the new Bethlehem, with the sight of Hall's mute mother lumbering towards redemption...or something. It's just that kind of movie, signaling Rowlson-Hall as a gifted cinematic voice moving (often in contorted poses) to her own very unique rhythms.