"I imagine those who had written off Cam Archer as yet another Gus Van Sant acolyte after seeing his debut, Wild Tigers I Have Known (2006), will be in for a shock when confronted with his latest film, Shit Year (2011), a mature work with a distinct, idiosyncratic approach to difficult questions." Travis Jeppesen for Artforum: "The film is ostensibly about Colleen West (Ellen Barkin), a middle-aged actress retiring from the industry and settling into a life of intensive self-isolation in a forest cabin. This deceptively simple premise serves as a convincing departure point for a prolonged meditation on solitude."
Archer "appears to have watched John Cassavetes's Opening Night, about a middle-aged actress, and rather more than a few avant-garde films as well," suggests Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Shot in handsome, often vividly contrasting black and white, [Shit Year] weighs in as an attempt at poetic expressionism, a bid to create a visual representation of Colleen's diffuse and fragmented mind. Mr Archer's narrative ambitions are laudable, and some of his images (the cinematographer is Aaron Platt) are striking, though a lot of scenes also look like glossy fashion magazine layouts come to relative life. These poses and pretty rooms may accurately reflect Colleen's visual aesthetic, the world she inhabits or wants to, but whether hers or Mr Archer's, it's not compelling."
"Gorgeous and epically elliptical, Shit Year is hampered by what seems to be an allergy to sincerity," writes Karina Longworth in the Voice. "A stylist apparently influenced by Andy Warhol, Archer never stages a conversation without putting it in quotes, making it as difficult to connect to Colleen as she finds it to connect to others…. But Barkin is often fascinating in playing a character who, in both her heroic bitchery and hysterical sadness, is more of a concept than a person, in a film that ultimately seems to be 'about' nothing more or less than the actress' magnetic face."
Time Out New York's David Fear: "We still go to the movies to see faces, and time hasn't diminished the pleasure of watching Barkin's compellingly crooked mug onscreen one iota. (She remains the female Belmondo.) That doesn't mean that anyone should have to sit through such a teeth-gnashing example of film-school pretentiousness to get a hit of uncut Barkin."
At the IFC Center in New York through September 29.
Update: "Shit Year seems like so much end-of-day kvetching, rather than a twilight retrospective to match its mood of melancholic grandeur," writes Benjamin Mercer in the L.