The Tracey Fragments (2007) dir. Bruce McDonald
Starring: Ellen Page, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, Ari Cohen, Zie Souwand, Slim Twig
“The Tracey Fragments” is kind of a marvel, an emotionally powerful film about a young teenage girl who moves through a series of tramatic experiences over the course of a couple of days, told using a kaleidoscope of intricately designed split-screen effects. It’s audacious and in-your-face, but beautifully designed and executed. What could have been a stylistic crutch in fact aids in discovering the fragmented character of Tracey Berkowitz.
Ellen Page plays Tracey Berkowitz a 14 year old girl, whom we first see riding a bus dressed only in a wrapped up plastic shower curtain. Her voiceover describes her inner thoughts, which help trace back the state of her life and how she got to be on a bus wearing a shower curtain. Her voiceover isn’t so much narration as read-aloud random journal entries.
The narrative jumps from through many timelines and locations. We see Tracey as a young child mentally abused by her parents, we see her in her kitchen as a teenager being mentally abused by her parents. We see her in school being bullied by the ‘mean girls’. We see her visualized fantasies of her high school crush, Billy Zero. The connecting throughline is Tracey’s search for her younger brother Sonny, who has gone missing. Sonny is Tracey's constant and the only one who brings order and normality to her increasing chaotic life.
The visual style is front and centre from the first frame. The film is shot ultra-low budget, using old fashioned Dogma-95 style DV camera work. This naturalism combined with it’s split screen effects create a unique visual style. Only Mike Figgis’ “Timecode” compares to the experimentation on display here. While “Timecode’s” four-quadrant action was distracting to the viewer, the design of the ever-changing visual fragments in McDonald's film is always cohesive.
Editor Jeremiah Munce is credited as the conceptual designer, and his kaleidoscope of imagery creates its own form of art layered on top of the actual story, dialogue and character we watch in these little frames. The imagery is edited and designed to be taken in as whole, instead of following the action of one specific frame. It’s a risky venture, but Munce and McDonald deliver a thorough satisfying experience.
Another layer of artistic brilliance is the music of Broken Social Scene (the acclaimed Toronto-based music ‘collective’), who provide a number of songs which serve as the soundtrack. BSS’s ambient soundscape set a tone of melancholy and sadness. It’s a great contrast to the often gritty and disturbing images we see throughout the film – the music acts as a warm breaze or gentle wave of sounds which pull the audience through the dirt and grime of Tracey’s adventures.
"The Tracey Fragments" is challenging, emotionally and conceptually. Admittedly, it’s a difficult film to dive into. And the first five or ten minutes will be a confusing experience. But Tracey's adventures slowly seep into your skin and in the end the whole is greater than the sum of it parts. Enjoy.
“The Tracey Fragments” is available on DVD from Alliance Films in Canada on June 30. The film is distributed by Thinkfilm in the U.S.