At times, watching Dan Sallitt's new feature, The Unspeakable Act, feels like reading a short story. This stems, in part, from the detailed voiceovers of Jackie, the story's teenage protagonist (the charismatic Tallie Medel). It also comes from Sallitt's rich, nuanced depiction of her attachment to her brother Matthew (Sky Hirschkron), which traverses taboo territory with courage and sensitivity. The Wisconsin Film Festival screened this film at the UW Elvehjem Building on Friday night.
Jackie and Matthew aren't struggling to admit their mutual attraction. They don't seem to harbor much guilt about their odd bond either, but they're aware it's preventing them from moving on with their lives as they slog through the final days of adolescence. For Jackie in particular, the problem revolves around predictability and control.
Through conversations with a therapist, she discovers that she craves the comfort that familiarity provides; she must know someone extremely well to feel a romantic attachment. The only other person who's brought on these feelings appeared in a dream. Through careful analysis, she discovers that this character with dark hair and a pale, round face is a reflection of herself. She must discover what this means while deciding how to address her physical urges, which seem to intensify when Matthew goes away to college.
It's an intensely personal journey: Her struggle is so revolting to others that they won't acknowledge it, even when she reveals it in matter-of-fact ways. And as she prepares to enter young adulthood, she must break up with a part of herself she holds dear or find a fulfilling way to face the consequences.