Screened as part of NZIFF 2002

Domestic Violence 2001

Directed by Frederick Wiseman

USA In English
196 minutes 35mm

Director, Producer, Editor, Sound


John Davey


Venice, London 2001


"Seventy-one-year-old Frederick Wiseman has thrown himself into one of his most painful, coruscating subjects. Domestic Violence is one of his greatest films, balanced between the grand, meditative viewpoint of the recent work and the intense focus of a Juvenile Court. Throughout the new three-and-a-half-hour movie, Wiseman cuts between episodes and encounters to the mean cityscape of Tampa, measured punctuations of strip malls and highways as the city passes from day to night. It’s a constant reminder that this place, as aesthetically brutal as the American landscape gets, is home to the corresponding emotional brutality that is being recounted and dealt with indoors, at The Spring of Tampa Bay, a shelter for battered women and their families… 

Like any good Wiseman film, Domestic Violence is dense with unforgettable images, passages and vignettes: a meeting of counselors hacking their way through the thicket of hopelessly tangled emotions between a recently admitted family; a group of very proper old ladies led on a tour through the facility, gasping at every horrifying statistic and detail; and perhaps most unforgettably of all, an old woman, recently arrived at the shelter, who has retreated into a protective world of her own. 

But all the details would be meaningless without Wiseman’s extraordinary patience and insight as a storyteller: he takes as much time as he needs (a year and a half in this case) to mold his footage into a just form. The day-into-night structure is more than merely makeshift or elegant. Domestic Violence begins in a private home, and we get a brief but unforgettable look at the aftermath of violence, as a woman, a mess of blood and broken bones, is carried out of her house by paramedics in broad daylight. And it ends at night, with a police visit to answer a domestic disturbance call. I don’t want to give away the particulars of this scene, one of the most frightening things I’ve seen in years, except to say that its terror lies less in what happens than in what we know will happen once the police are gone. Television commentators and pop psychologists are fond of invoking the ‘cycle’ of domestic violence, but Fred Wiseman is the first artist who’s had the stubborn perseverance to take apart this eminently dramatic ‘phenomenon’ and give us a glimpse of the sad mechanism within." — Kent Jones, Film Comment