The Unspeakable Act is a film sold on the presumed drama that stems from incest. While a dominant focus of the film’s trajectory, it operates under a different and far more delicate set of principles. The architecture of relationships and the difficulties in ascribing to socially accepted mores are the thematic touchstones that Dan Sallitt boldly tackles. Jackie Kimball’s (Tallie Medel) infatuation for her brother Matthew (Sky Hirschkron) serves as the atypical dramatic undercurrent throughout the picture, but what The Unspeakable Act attempts to reconcile is Jackie’s own sense of anomie. What we find in The Unspeakable Act aren’t brash dramatic crescendos but rather affecting minimalism as a character attempts to figure out the who before the why behind her behavior.
Set in an idyllic part of Brooklyn, Sallitt wisely focuses on Jackie’s environment and the solitude associated with her adolescence. An absent paternal figure and a large, wood-framed household defined much of Jackie’s upbringing whereupon her attachment to Matthew flourished. Sallitt has Medel narrate much of the picture, where her sarcastic wit defines much of the film’s humor. Her character goes on to describe the nighttime as their time, when her mother went to bed early and sister relegated herself to her own solitude, Jackie and Matthew were capable of bonding. Medel’s an impressive presence throughout the picture, displaying broad emotional dexterity in her interactions with her various costars. Initially reminding me of Aubrey Plaza’s work in Parks and Recreation, Medel’s dead-pan delivery is deployed sparingly – essentially, she hits higher highs and lower lows.
The plights of unrequited love often register positively on my radar, but The Unspeakable Act obviously complicates the issue by broadening the moral issue to that of brother and sister. Yet it’s never an entirely uncomfortable experience. Perhaps it’s the tenderness that Sallitt evokes. There’s no sense of exploitation or overwrought dramatic undercurrent to keep the film moving. Rather, Sallitt’s observant style recalls that of the Dardenne Brothers – though for some reason, dialogue from the French tend to carry an air of authenticity and hardly sounds as clunky as some of Sallitt’s dialogue. Regardless, it’s a welcoming style in American independent filmmaking to see a filmmaker clearly working from a script and effectively moving from scene to scene with an understanding of establishing place and presence. The film’s tidy ending is of particular interest as well, where Jackie’s character is inspired to absolve her feelings. The steady development and growth of her character makes The Unspeakable Act an especially resonate coming-of-age story.