Coming to Terms

A coldly cantankerous old man (James Benning), with two broken marriages and an estranged son from each, summons his wives and children to his home in Butte, Montana, where he informs the boys that he’s terminally ill and asks them and their mothers to assist in his suicide. This masterful feature from veteran independent (and Chicago native) Jon Jost maintains a perfect balance between dramatic storytelling and rigorous formalism; his long takes of each woman and her son, positioned at right angles and facing out of the frame, might seem precious if not for the emotional weight of their dialogue. Stirring landscape photography functions as a tribute of sorts to Benning, a lauded experimental filmmaker in his own right, but even this is skillfully integrated into the narrative—a long shot of forest greenery, slowly posterized into textured black and white, provides a powerful visual corollary for the old man’s life ebbing away.