Thirteen women serving sentences for committing crimes against their husbands and partners are the focus of attention in Vita Lusty's documentary Til Death Do Us Part (2008). They recall their past, talk about the present, and look toward the future. Some more so than others.
As much as Til Death Do Us Part is a film about battered women and their thorny lives it is also a unique look at the American justice system - controversial, imperfect, suspiciously flexible in the hands of powerful politicians with agendas. It is also a film whose premise is likely to spur a number of different reactions, from anger to amusement to...more anger.
The idea behind the documentary however is not about proving that its subjects have been wrongfully accused and sentenced to prison time but to explain why they ended up in jail, whether or not the judicial system could have deconstructed their crimes differently. The women seen on screen all reveal terrible stories of harassment and physical abuse culminating into deadly finales where they had to choose between being killed and killing those who attacked them. Depending on how you decipher their stories they were (un)fortunate enough to survive.
But our justice system rarely takes into account why a crime is committed in the first place. Instead those who serve it are fixated on punishment, extracting the criminals amongst us rather than preventing crime from occurring. Looking to understand its mechanics director Vita Lusty points her camera towards those whose opinion matters the most. As a result frame after frame one is given the opportunity to make one's mind whether or not crime is preventable, what nurtures it.
Furthermore, a short segment towards the middle of Til Death Do Us Part claims that more often than not politics is directly responsible for the manner in which criminals are rehabilitated. Apparently second chances hinge on the message powerful political figures wish to send before or after crucial elections. If truly so, what is the ultimate goal of our legal system? Is it to spare us from the crimes of those who do not appear fit to share our communities? Is it to help recover those who might have slipped and committed a deed worthy of punishment? Or, is it a part of something else, something much more elusive and ingenious we intentionally ignore?
I am unsure how to end my summation for this film - after having heard the personal stories director Vita Lusty has recorded I am left with a sense of nagging emptiness. I am also torn between believing the bitter words of the women whose crimes have irrevocably changed their lives and the stern assessments by those who must determine when they can reenter, if ever, our society. Have these women paid for their crimes? Were they judged fairly? I don't know. What I do know is that all of them were abused. Badly. And that they are also victims. Something our legal system isn't terribly concerned with.
Official Film Site and Trailer:
How Does the DVD Look?
The documentary is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio with bits of footage in 1.78:1 boxed in. Due to the nature of the material provided the quality of the film varies greatly. Some of it reveals color fluctuations, contrast inconsistencies, and general instability but overall everything is quite nicely put together allowing the viewer to concentrate on the subject matter. I have no reservations with the presentation given that this is indeed a low-budget documentary which required a great deal of improvisation to put together in the first place. As such my evaluation must take into account the different source materials as well as some of the inconsistencies mentioned above.
How Does the DVD Sound?
The English DD track reveals a treatment similar to the one described above. The audio differs quite a bit from interview to interview but it is mostly clear and easy to understand. I did not encounter any major issues to report here.
First, there is a short statement by the director, in text format, explaining how the film became a reality, what sacrifices were made in order for it to be completed. Next, there is a short update, also in text format, on all of the women part of this documentary - there is relevant info pertaining to their sentences, paroles, etc. Next there is a short film titled "Cops to Courts" which basically follows the same model adopted by the Cops, the notorious show. The film loosely follows the mechanics of responding to a crime call. Next, there is another short film titled "Bybee" about a young woman whose world begins to disintegrate. Finally, there is a live performance by Faith Nolan as well as a trailer for the main feature.
A far-reaching documentary about battered women and their inability to fight a system which seems incapable of understanding why victims become criminals Til Death Do Us Part is likely to spur mixed emotions amongst its viewers. Unfortunately, I am unsure how much this film could do to change what appears to be troubling its director. Recommended.