“Love is the best thing going on,” says a character in the latter half of Benjamin Crotty’s outre comedy-drama Fort Buchanan, “and there seems to be a lot of that around here.” Whether we the audience are there with him comes down to how far Crotty, as writer and director, can bend his script’s military-outpost premise without breaking. Focusing on the husbands and wives waiting for their enlisted spouses at a remote camp is an overtly melodramatic start, with their erotic yearnings and escapades being an impelling move from there, but by opening them up through unabashedly fluid sexuality and family constructs, he wins out with a feature that is playful formally, not just in temperament.
Even temperament alone would have been fine in the company of this particular cast, though. Andy Gillet takes much of the limelight and barbs as Roger Sherwood, a hapless introvert whose husband (David Baiot) is off in Bjibouti and whose daughter Roxy (Iliana Zabeth) is maturing faster than he can deal with. Thankfully, his three restless co-lodgers are around to jostle father and daughter out of their hibernation, with the angelic Pamela (Pauline Jacquard) taking a particular shine to the younger Sherwood. Justine (Mati Diop) is hilariously less fortunate in her own advances, bounding through slapstick beats when trying to impress the local fitness trainer (Guillaume Palin), and Denise (Judith Lou Lévy, pulling double duty as a producer) views the criss-crossing capers at a cool remove. The dynamic between them takes on the same liveliness as the slippery narrative, which jumps around between perspectives and then time periods in the blink of an eye, as though it were caving in to its own restless impulses along with its queer central cadre.
Despite clocking in at barely longer than an hour,1 the jaunts between different dynamics eventually charts into welcome instances of pathos. The 16mm cinematography from Michaël Capron infuses even the most farcical elements, like Gillet donning Daisy Dukes and Jacquard rocking out like a hippy on the Horn of Africa dance floor, with fond remembrances of stability in a motif that comes home to roost along with certain other key characters. Crotty deals in the perils of self-actualisation, which would typically invite vagueries about well-off people wanting that little bit more meaning in their day-to-day, but in this rapidly antiquated military context becomes a dicier game. Before long, the armed forces are being rolled back through real-world news footage. Reality collides with abstraction, the characters’ flightiness becomes their aimlessness, and the cast manage the leap without ever losing their taste for Crotty’s joyful crassness; an impressive balancing act that will scarcely be appreciated outside of the festival context.
With the racy-yet-tender ground covered, there’s a final plot movement that is something of a mixed blessing. Crotty takes us to the place where love becomes more than a craving, as quoted above, and it does feel like a logical finish for such off-kilter proceedings. He does so, however, through a character we hardly get to know as well as the others, and the result feels a tad morbid and off-putting. One can hardly begrudge him, though, for an extra gamble in a movie full of smart ones, where time is made to be tampered with and diversely-cast actors are granted freedom to be courageous, trashy, daffy and sexy. Fort Buchanan has the sincerity to carry through all of its subtle experimentation, and love to spare for anyone who hops on the ride.