MY LIFE AS ABRAHAM LINCOLN is an indie feature written, produced & directed by filmmaker Shari Berman. With the tagline “Abe Lincoln’s really a girl” it’s easy to understand why some folk might go into this movie a bit confused as to what they’re about to experience. It is very much a love it or hate it work and I find that these kinds of films are often the most under-appreciated and overlooked by distributors. Films like this are also the best candidates for a Criterion Spine. Here is my reasoning for why My Life as Abraham Lincoln deserves the Criterion treatment or an equally thoughtful release.
*Possible Spoilers* below for anyone who hasn’t seen the film.
My Life as Abraham Lincoln is a story that revolves around Cindy, a heroine portrayed by the incredible Caroline Luft. In the opening scenes we see Cindy accidentally push her fiancé from a New York rooftop. What makes this opening scene stand out as genius is that it’s both humorous and disturbing. Visually this all seems to be happening on Cindy’s wedding day, but Berman presents it to us in such a way that we feel, instinctively, that something’s off. The story proceeds by unfolding layer after layer of Cindy and her seeming bemusement with the characters around her – from her psychiatrist to her closest gal pals. The film utilizes a standard narrative/flashback structure but teeters on experimental at every other interval.
The film is a result of Berman’s attempt to write a structured romantic comedy, however the non-linear final cut is likely a result of her natural genius. Berman has said in interviews that she was writing what she thought people felt about their own lives. It’s a low budget film, but executed with precision and mastery of the craft due to Berman’s understanding of her own abilities and material. The film can most aptly be characterized by its 2013 trailer, in which a handful of people who have viewed the film, all give their varying opinions on what actually happened in the movie; with some individuals insisting that Cindy didn’t kill her fiancé at all and that this was her mental interpretation of her breaking off an engagement. Some viewers insist she was never engaged to begin with.
My Life as Abraham Lincoln had a successful run in the New York festival circuit in 2012 and 2013. Shari Berman initially screened an early version of the movie at the Anthology Film Archives as part of the NewFilmmakers screening series. Upon completion of the film, Berman officially premiered at the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival where she won the Audience Choice Award. She also had a successful run at Cinema Village.
New York Times reviewer Andy Websters wrote of the film: “The accessible and appealing Ms. Luft is a strong anchor. Ms. Berman can be funny (especially with a black-and-white Ingmar Bergman send-up). It’s intriguing to imagine what she could do with a tighter, more linear script.” Eric Monder for Film Journal wrote: “Quirky, disarming movie about a woman looking for answers to her troubled life has much to recommend.” Rob Humanick reviewed the film on Rotten Tomatoes saying: “After two viewings, I don’t know entirely how to feel about the experience, and that, to me, says it’s an essential one.”
Unfortunately, as of the publication of this article, the film is currently unavailable. Despite its successful festival run, its theatrical run and endless positive reviews, the film is nowhere to be seen. This is where a company like Criterion could step in, offer up the works and allow Berman’s masterpiece to be appreciated by the world. This is a film that doesn’t need special features, commentaries or any of that fluff (although it would be nice, I still have lots of unanswered questions about the movie). This is a film that stands on its own merits as one of the best, truly independent films, I have ever seen.
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