At one point in Fort Buchanan, the debut feature film from the American-born French writer/director Benjamin Crotty, a minor character shouts in exasperation that although she’s more than willing to die for her country, “Fidelity is impossible!” This attitude, in a way, characterizes Crotty’s entire film. Fort Buchanan focuses on a year in the lives of men and women living on an imagined U.S. army base, waiting for their spouses to finish their military service. But like the exasperated character, Crotty is far less interested in exploring military service than the sexual limbo and interpersonal complications it necessitates.
Of the half a dozen or so spouses living at Fort Buchanan, the film’s primary focus is a man named Roger (Andy Gillet). The first scene finds Roger in a stereotypically masculine position: chopping lumber out in the woods, flannel and all. However, this picture of conventional manliness is quickly reversed as Roger’s teenage daughter, Roxy (Iliana Zabeth), bursts on the scene. Roxy not only reveals that Roger is in a stew over being separated from Frank—his highly-ranked military husband, who’s been deployed to Djibouti—but she also punches him in the face. Rather than the role of the strong and secure protector for which the opening tableau readies him, Roger plays the role of the long-suffering “army wife,” anxiously waiting for his husband to return and worrying about his own desirability.
Crotty continues to play with gender iconography throughout the film. Roger grows a beard in some scenes, while in others he sports a fluffy bathrobe and a towel as a turban. One close-up shows Roger getting his head shaved, an image indicative of young men’s submission to a higher institution of masculinity, from the military to Fight Club. In another clever reversal, however, Roger’s objective is shown to be the seduction his husband: the haircut is complemented with a pair of Daisy Dukes.
In addition to subverting traditional gender roles, Crotty’s film also eschews a conventional structure. Though Fort Buchanan has an easy-to-follow narrative divided into four segments, each corresponding to one season of a year, any action that happens within those sections is secondary to characters sitting and stirring in mutual sexual unfulfillment. The film is shot on 16mm film, and Crotty utilizes the format’s hazy aesthetic to deliver some arresting compositions—like Roger sulkily sunbathing in a bathrobe, or all the women of the Fort entangled on a single beach cushion. He also, unfortunately, relies too often on close-ups of his characters as they wryly discuss the sex lives they are missing. This drollness dominates the film’s tone; developments that seem earnest often end in a snicker. In that first moment we see Roger, right after he reprimands Roxy for accosting him, he pratfalls down the stairs. Even a funeral ends with a semi-ironic come-on. These punch lines may work to keep the viewer from taking the characters too seriously, perhaps a commendable tactic in the often weighty genre of the military film. Yet in the many instances where Crotty signals depth only to reveal surface—hints at fidelity only to realize its impossibility, as it were—the audience is ultimately left looking for more to hold on to.
Fort Buchanan screened as a part of the Film Society at Lincoln Center’s February series, “Friends with Benefits: An Anthology of Four New American Filmmakers”.