When Marc Thompson speaks, his words roll off the tongue like poetry, their melodic and precise fluidity damningly conjuring the reality of racist victimisation. The force of nature that he is animates Maria Petschnig’s documentary, which juxtaposes Thompson’s daily rituals as an unhoused person in New York with his contemplation of his incarcerated past and the systemic obstacles that hamper his re-entry into society.
With no fixed address, Thompson eats and sleeps in his car; this is a precarious arrangement steeped in feelings of freedom as well as shame, a paradoxical and transient state that perfectly encapsulates the film’s title. Mostly observing Thompson from behind, the camera follows his trips to the gym, the laundromat, the library; he has written a collection of poetry drawn from his own life. The process of writing allows him to look deeper into his traumas, which include the accidental death of his eight-year-old brother, a tragic event that induces self-destructive behaviours on Thompson’s part.
The initial decision to not show his face – Thompson’s own wish – illustrates the collaborative nature of the endeavour, between film-maker and subject. Documentaries of this nature can often veer into exploitation and voyeurism, but Uncomfortably Comfortable is quite fascinating in how Petschnig is willing to reveal her own blindspots. Thompson and Petschnig see a car catch on fire; Petschnig sees the incident as an intentional crime, while Thompson points out these paranoid speculations are the kind which has resulted in police brutality against innocent Black men.
It’s a scene that brings up the question of whether Petschnig is actually equipped to make a film about the racial struggles faced by her subject, yet the decision to include this volatile conversation, and others like it, is a commendable act of transparency.
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