Angelica Zollo’s harrowing and intimate directorial debut, “Trauma Is a Time Machine,” utilizes the elasticity of cinematic time to create a visceral re-creation of the mental effects of trauma after sexual assault. The film is a moody tone poem, an aesthetic representation of a fractured psyche, in which Augie Duke goes for broke as Helen, in a role that asks her to traverse a tricky emotional roller coaster of before, during and after surviving a rape by her partner.
The attack itself is initially represented only in sound, against a black screen, and the lack of visual makes the attack more affecting than when we do see it, later. The story is shown at first in snatches of flashbacks, and the nonlinear plot progresses in moments pulled out of memory: Helen’s nascent relationship with Toby (Gabe Fazio), with other men she dates, in the damage that she wreaks on her own body, cutting and consuming, trying to gain some control.
This is a spare and sparse, performance-driven production, but cinematographer Eric Giovon, shooting in rich black and white, pulls off some dazzling imagery, especially in the charged relationship between Helen and the camera. It is her mirror, a shard of her shattered self; her confidant, through which she can finally tell her story.
Though the narrative could use more structural integrity, Zollo, and her daring lead actress, Duke, create a courageously personal, experimental piece, tapping into a raw emotional state not often rendered on screen with such depth and intelligence.
Running time: 1 hour 22 minutes
Playing: Starts Sept. 20, Galaxy Mission Grove; also on VOD