Time (2020) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Her time without her husband

Documentary film “Time”, which was released on Amazon Prime several days ago, gives us a somber but powerful presentation of the personal reflections from one seemingly ordinary but remarkably resilient American woman. As freely alternating between her past and present, the documentary often touches us via a series of intimate moments quietly shining with sincerity and poignancy, and we come to muse more on those social injustices in the America society, which are clearly and painfully reflected by her long and difficult struggle for her husband and children.

At the beginning, the documentary shows us a series of old home video clips shot by Sibil Fox Richardson, an African American woman who is also known as Fox Rich. We see her younger self being optimistic about her future, and we also observe how happy she was with her husband Rob and their children at that time although they struggled a lot in their attempt to run a local clothes shop in their neighborhood. Whey they subsequently found themselves on the verge of bankruptcy, Sibil and Rob came to resort to bank robbery, and he received a 60-year prison sentence for that while she received a far less severe prison sentence after accepting a plea bargain unlike her husband.

While her husband still does not have much opportunity for parole at all, Sibil was fortunately allowed to be released only after 3.5 years, and the documentary gradually shows us how much she has been changed since that. While never hiding or making any excuse on what she and her husband did, she often gives public speeches for helping and advising others in her neighborhood, and she has also actively worked as an activist/entrepreneur.

Above all, Sibil has put considerable personal efforts on getting her husband released from the Louisiana State Prison for more than 15 years, though there has not been much progress for them. As a matter of fact, she already lost a substantial amount of saved money more than once because of those unreliable lawyers she happened to trust too much, and the chance seems to be decreasing year by year, but she has never given up her hope while frankly admitting to us that she cannot help but cling to the expectation on her husband’s release whenever another year is begun.

At least, Sibil has gotten lots of supports from other people around her mainly thanks to her longtime efforts toward not only her reformation but also social justice, and her mother is certainly someone to lean on besides her children. As your typical no-nonsense old lady, Sibil’s mother is not oblivious at all to what her daughter and son-in-law committed in the past, and we can clearly sense that she has always been a strong moral support for Sibil throughout her life.

And we see how Sibil and her husband’s six sons, most of them were incidentally born after that bank robbery incident, have grew up well under their mother and grandmother. Although the long absence of their father has always been a painful fact in their life, their grandmother and mother have taken care of them fairly well, and one of the most touching moments in the documentary comes from when one of Sibil’s sons becomes a certified dentist in front of Sibil and her other sons, who are all very proud of him.

In the meantime, the documentary keeps focusing on Sibil’s latest attempt to get her husband released from his prison. Although she does not expect that much this time, she comes to call to the state court more than once just for checking whether the judge assigned to her husband’s case has submitted the decision, and her accumulating agitation feels palpable when the camera closely observes her concerned face.

As steadily maintaining its calm and meditative attitude, the documentary keeps casually flowing back and forth between Sibil’s past and present as before, and director/co-producer Garrett Bradley, who deservedly received the US Documentary Directing Award when the documentary had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival early in this year, did a commendable job of generating an organic narrative flow from that. As we see more of how much Sibil is different from her younger self in the past, we come to sense more of the long passage of time between two different selves of hers, and the resulting sense of time and life achingly resonates with one unexpectedly poetic visual moment around the end of the documentary.

By the way, I will not go into details on the outcome of Sibil’s latest attempt for her husband’s release, but I can tell you instead that I was really caught off guard by a short but surprising scene of private intimacy. It is clear to us that Bradley gained considerable trust from Sibil from the beginning, and I appreciate how Bradley presents this moment with tactful restraint while never looking away from its emotional intensity.

On the whole, “Time” is rather unconventional in its artistic approach, so you may need to have some patience at the beginning, but it will leave you a lasting impression via many haunting moments, which are often beautifully shown in its black and white presentation. In short, this is a plain but undeniably moving tale of human hope and resilience, and it will be a very rewarding experience for you once you give it a chance.

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