' ' Cinema Romantico: Time

Wednesday, April 21, 2021


On September 16th, 1997, Sibil and Robert Richardson, with four kids at home and twins on the way, attempted to rob a Shreveport, Louisiana Credit Union. Sibil took a plea deal, getting 12 years in prison, but Robert misguidedly rejected his plea deal and wound up with 60 years, no parole, the last detail being the one that truly stings, transforming his wife into an advocate for his release and providing the genesis for Garrett Bradley’s documentary “Time.” But if this movie lingers on the severe inflexibilities of both the legal and prison systems in America and the ensuing affliction such obstinacy can cause, the movie itself is ultimately defined by a bit of productional serendipitousness. If Bradley originally intended for “Time” to be a short film focused strictly on Sibil’s present mission to pressure for her husband’s early release, as filming ended, Sibil approached Bradley with reams of home movie footage she herself had shot documenting life between her own release and the present. Bradley, then, smartly reworked “Time” into something else entirely, not just a deeper rumination on her eponymous subject but where rather than telling Sibil’s story for her, she allowed Sibil ownership of her story, a powerful innate through-line in a movie where control of a person’s life is taken away.

 You see this elaborate relationship with time straight away in the opening image which doubles as the first image of Sibil’s video diary, setting up the camera one way, then setting up the camera another way. In fact, you hear her saying she doesn’t know exactly how to set the camera up. Flash forward a few minutes, though, in film time, but 20 years or so in life time, and there is Sibil, having rechristened herself as Fox Rich, entrepreneur, owner of a car dealership talking to a young director about filming an advertisement, conveying complete knowledge about to look and act and talk on camera. It’s like night and day. How do we get here from there? In-between Bradley culls a montage from Rich’s recordings in which we see her and her kids all grow up before our very eyes, a moving mosaic underlined by the movie’s score, composed by a 96-year old Ethiopian nun Emahoy TseguĂ©-Maryam Guèbrou, classical-ish recordings originally released in the 1960s that feel entirely timeless, providing the perfect counterweight to a movie sculpted entirely out of time. And in pogoing between past and present, we see both how time goes by in the blink of an eye and how it changes these people, physically, emotionally and spiritually, even as it juxtaposes that change against the presence – or, decided lack of it – of Robert Richardson. Instead Bradley cuts back, again and again, to this same shot of Robert, in a white t-shirt sitting in the sun, unchanged, an idea captured with an even sadder sort of irony in the his cardboard cutout the family keeps, the reminder that as the rest of the family transforms, in their minds he remains the same, stuck in the past when he left them.

“Time” is not a voguish kind of true crime investigation, reopening the case and trying to prove Robert’s innocence. Guilt for the crime is not simply implied but emphatically stated. Fox’s own mother becomes a kind of arbiter of justice, appearing on present-day camera a few times, including once to declare, with a ring of disappointed judgement, “They did it, you know?”, as if ensuring no one misses that immutable fact. Indeed, Fox’s spiritual makeover is a crucial part of “Time”, preaching the error of her decision to large groups, seeing the light and sticking to it both as a younger person and her current incarnation, an implicit argument for prison as a place of reform, an argument that both goes against 60-year sentences with no chance of parole and strikes right at the heart of an ostensible Christian nation ostensibly all about forgiveness. Fox is heard asking for that forgiveness, then and now, an ongoing project, and the maturity and intelligence with which her sons are also seen conducting themselves and preparing themselves for the road ahead lend great aid to the idea of what forgiveness and reform can accomplish.

But if forgiveness and reform run up against the punitive nature of incarceration, they also run up against the whole system’s indifference, the shrug that doing the crime means doing the time, to deliberately borrow a trite phrase, even if time equates to nothing less than a whole life. Throughout “Time”, Fox’s calls to the office of a judge weighing the possibility of Robert’s release get nowhere because of impersonal bureaucratic dickering. In one sequence, Fox is told by the go-between in the same sentence that there has been no decision and that the go-between has, in fact, not followed up to see if there was a decision in the first place, essentially lying right to Fox’s face. As Bradley’s camera slowly zooms out and then back in, mirroring her subject’s emotional journey in this moment, Fox at first finds strength in her mantra – “Success is the best revenge” – before, suddenly, briefly, becoming enraged, even profane, for the only time all movie, demonstrating the toll such a life can take even for those on the outside. There is another moment when she makes a call in search of the judge’s ruling, put on hold, and kept on hold. Bradley cuts back and forth between Fox and her son, just watching them wait. No music plays, there is only the silence of the room. The moment lasts, maybe, a minute. It feels like a lifetime.

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