“And though she feels as if she’s in a play she is anyway”

Robert Greene, Brandy Burre, NYC, 11/7/14

Robert Greene, Brandy Burre, NYC, 11/7/14

Brandy Burre, the lovely titular “character” in Robert Greene’s fascinating new documentary, “Actress,” seems to live by a twist on Descartes, “I act, therefore, I am,”  and as a young performer with scant professional experience, she was selected by David Simon for a recurring role in “The Wire.”

But when very early in her relationship with restauranteur/bar owner Tim Reinke, she got pregnant with their son Henry, she abandoned her career, “chose to be a mom,” and the couple moved to Beacon, a small town in New York’s Hudson Valley.  Brandy characterizes the decision, “It wasn’t well thought out, I suppose.”

For several years, Brandy, with deep love for her children (daughter Stella was born three years after Henry), relishes her new role, but unable to have the part she had expected in Tim’s business, the reality of her “new adventure”–“stuck in the house with the kids” and in a relationship that feels stale–makes her feel “disenfranchised from my own life.”

As Stella turns three, Brandy decides to try to get work.  She also meets someone (the film correctly chooses to be vague about the particulars) and when Tim realizes, he moves out. Saddened by the split, but calling it inevitable, Brandy says, “we were playing the roles that you think you need to play.”  A scene in which they try to separate their belongings is profoundly sad, two wooden rolling pins standing in for all that is being lost.

Returning on the cusp of 40 to an industry that likes its women young to the point of absurdity (when I photographed Brandy, she pointed out that Ben Affleck’s twin sister in “Gone Girl” is played by an actress nine years his junior), Brandy is determined to work.

“Actress,” a hybrid of cinema verité and melodrama (one of Greene’s favorite directors is Douglas Sirk), is beautifully shot, mostly by Greene (with some assistance provided by frequent collaborator Sean Price Williams): trains leaving Beacon for NYC, a more and less frozen Hudson, Brandy back to the camera at the sink, orange dress, orange poinsettias, and a truly startling sequence beginning with a close-up of Brandy with a blackened left eye and a bandage above it, widening out to see her sitting on her sofa in the defuse light in her living room and being joined first by Stella and then Henry.

I’ve seen three films this year with Robert Greene’s name in the credits.  In addition to “Actress,” he edited Alex Ross Perry’s so funny/not funny “Listen Up Philip” and produced Amanda Rose Wilder‘s riveting, soon-to-be released documentary, “Approaching the Elephant.”  I intend to see all of his future projects.

“Actress” is playing at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunim Munroe Film Center through Thursday, November 13.  Q&A with Robert Greene and Brandy Burre tonight at 7:00 pm (moderated by author and journalist Lauren Sandler) and at 9:30 pm (moderated by Dan Nuxoll of Rooftop Films).

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