As a period piece, David Lowery's "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" feels exceptionally faithful to the deep interiors of 1970s Texas, the darkest pockets of which provide the backdrop for this feverishly romantic story of two lovers bound together by myth and separated by law. Despite that fidelity, however, watching the film in 2013 is nevertheless an overwhelmingly anachronistic experience. For one thing, it's good, which definitely feels out of step with most of the other movies that were dumped into theaters this summer. For a second thing, in a time when American independent cinema so rarely feels like cinema, "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" is an unabashedly sweeping mini-epic, relying on detail rather than spectacle to convincingly transport audiences to a time and place that have since been buried into lost folds of americana.
I can think of no greater compliment than to say that no part of David Lowery's second feature, which is now playing in NY and LA before rolling out to theaters across the country this weekend, feels in sync with how movies are made these days, and that extends from Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara's delicately internalized lead performances all the way down to the behind-the-scenes footage that's being made available to the public. Rather than submit to the standard EPK garbage, Lowery invited brothers Bill and Turner Ross – the extraordinary documentary team responsible for "Tchoupitoulas" and "45365" – to chronicle day-to-day life on set.
The resulting film is a winsome work of art unto itself. Focusing on the quiet moments that ultimately define the production process (Affleck trying to stay in character between set-ups, cinematographer Bradford Young making sure his light falls on a prop just right), the Ross brothers' footage isn't just a neat glimpse behind the curtain for "Ain't Them Bodies" fans, but also a fleetingly beautiful portrait of all the perfect little moments that are spent in the name of preserving a select few on film.
"Ain't Them Bodies Saints" opens in select theaters nationwide this Friday.