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Catching Dust ★★★



Director: Stuart Gatt

Cast: Erin Moriarty, Dina Shihabi, Ryan Corr, Jai Courtney

Released: Tribeca Film Festival 2023

Living off the grid may epitomise freedom and romance to some but may be equally oppressive to others. Catching Dust captures these sentiments from the perspective of Geena (Erin Moriarty) and Clyde (Jai Courtney), a couple living off the grid in a trailer in a remote desert in Texas. The film warns that isolation may not be the ideal solution. The arrival of another couple from New York City emphasises this notion further as they interrupt this microcosm that Clyde has created for his life with Geena. This event is the catalyst Geena strives for, and Clyde fears as he hides from his former gang. Thus, Catching Dust is an intriguing character study exploring couple dynamics alongside the necessity for emotional and spiritual growth as Clyde’s philosophy is pitted against Geena’s. Therefore, she unwittingly courts danger with her aspirations, creating a fascinating-sounding premise; however, the film relies on predictable arcs, which belie the initial promise. Still, the performances of Moriarty’s Geena and Courtney’s Clyde may be the film’s saving grace.

Catching Dust embraces a reverse chronology with a shocking scene from the outset, similar to a whodunit. Therefore, we know that there is a foreboding, brooding event involving Clyde, and it is an exercise in deduction to await the events unfolding. Using such a literary device gives the impression that Catching Dust would operate well as a four-hander play or a TV movie. As such, that sensation of déjà vu looms, and Catching Dust is essentially reduced to being a chamber piece pitting a younger couple against an older couple with inevitable discourse regarding city life versus nomad desert life. This predictability of themes breeds ennui, thus drawing parallels to Geena’s restlessness of the repetitive nature of simple commune life. Confronted by the same desert scenes and colour palette, although the cinematography is stunning, Moriarty convincingly portrays a desperate woman. The film’s meandering pacing matches this frustration perfectly. Unfortunately, Catching Dust struggles to continue in this vein and lacks momentum, threatening to undermine the compelling performances.

Moriarty and Courtney try their best within the script’s limitations. Terse exchanges and Courtney’s quiet menace provide a degree of intrigue and insight but feel insubstantial due to the choice of direction. Even the city dweller Amaya’s (Dina Shihabi) disruptive, outspoken views are superficially addressed despite her perceived role as that feminist symbol of modernity compared to the long-suffering Geena. This is unfortunate, given Amaya’s expressiveness against the patriarchy. Watching Shihab’s Amaya defies the controlling nature of Clyde and is an amusing, uplifting segment, ramping up the tension, but succumbs to the pitfall of being glossed over without director Stuart Gatt’s commitment to follow through with that trajectory.

Still, the interactions between the two women are worthwhile viewing as an exercise of emotional range. Eschewing the well-trodden pathway of an instant female friendship, à la Thelma and Louise, or apparent rivalry, given their different cultural backgrounds, Gatt provides space within the film for meaningful dialogue. Thus Amaya and Geena’s contrasting viewpoints are insightful and give greater nuance within an otherwise flat storyline. Amaya openly dismisses Geena’s initial ambitions, which replicate existing patriarchal structures, which opens the possibility for topical discussion. Yet, despite interesting observations from Geena’s musings on the social mobility granted by having a man within a local community, Gatt is not confident about continuing this trajectory. Overall, Catching Dust presents that dichotomy between physical and emotional strength within relationships operating within a claustrophobic environment. Geena is that proverbial caged bird, and despite Amaya’s liberal perspective, she, too, is inwardly trapped within her emotional circumstances.

The difficulty is that the film attempts to create sympathetic, redemptive arcs within the quartet instead of leaning into the emotionally rich tapestry. As such, many underdeveloped narrative arcs remain untied as predictability overtakes. Unfortunately, Catching Dust cannot escape feeling like a half-finished play without that cohesive structure to provide entire character investment.

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