A follow-up to director-editor Frederick Wiseman's documentary Domestic Violence (2001), Part Two contrasts the nurturing, small group and individual attention dished out at the first film's women's shelter with an overwhelmed judicial system where the complex problems of domestic violence are processed like SUVs on the assembly line. It's frightening and disheartening, but also fascinating and informative.
The all-region two-disc DVD runs 160 minutes. The IMDb lists alternate running times up to 196 minutes but this may be incorrect, and anyway as this disc comes from Wiseman's own self-distributing DVD label so it's pretty safe to assume that the film is his preferred cut. The first disc runs 110 minutes, with disc two the remaining 50.
As with its predecessor, Domestic Violence 2 opens and closes with shots of the idyllic Tampa, Florida skyline, and a montage of fast-food joints and billboards (including, inevitably, a "Hooters"). And like its predecessor, Wiseman shows us the tail end of one police call, surprisingly a case in which the woman is accused of violence against the man, though both sides would prefer to see the whole thing dropped. Even the policewoman on the scene doesn't dispute the couple, but as her superior wearily informs her, the officer is bound by new state laws to haul her ass into jail.
Almost the entire film takes place inside the cramped utilitarian quarters of the Hillsborough County courts in lengthy, static sequences showing arraignments, adjudications, and so on. To give you some sense of this, the second disc - almost the entire 50 minutes - takes place in a single starkly lit room, with one case after another shuffled in before Judge Raul Palomino, Jr. No dolly shots, no CGI effects - just lingering shots of the two parties, the judge and, rarely, an attorney. When the complainant fails to show, the whole process takes all of 15 seconds. The longer ones might last ten minutes.
These scenes are downright cozy compared to the film's first-half, where prisoners (men and women) in orange jump suits don't even get to see the judge face-to-face. In large groups and apparently still in jail somewhere their Day in Court comes courtesy closed-circuit television. It's positively Orwellian. The judge admonishes prisoners in groups in a kind of judicial shorthand; "Those of you charged with X, stand up!" he says, and "What do you want to tell me?" is testily asked over-and-over, like a mantra.
Though there's no doubt a lot of the defendants (including, ironically enough, a domestic violence counselor) are probably guilty, the surly, short-tempered judge acts like everyone must be guilty, otherwise they wouldn't be there. Practically no one appears with legal representation. Not that it helps much. The few attorneys that are present either come to court totally unprepared or, perhaps owing to the overtaxed system, don't have the chance to go over each case. Frequently they're reading the complaint for the first time right there, flipping through pages while everyone waits. At other times, vitally important paperwork is lost, delaying justice even further.
The vast majority of complainants and defendants seem lower middle class, working poor and even worse off. Almost universally they seem drained of all emotion and any realistic hope that the courts will help resolve their conflicts. Conversely, many of them seem as ill-prepared as the lawyers they hire and, bizarrely, most arrive in court dressed so casually you'd think they were on their way to a company picnic.
Domestic Violence 2 is a film that raises myriad questions: Has domestic violence become an American epidemic, or are the increasingly broadened legal standards sending a lot of people to jail that don't deserve to be there? Why do wife beaters and their victims keep coming through the system again and again? How can we as a society possibly hope to solve these problems railroading people through a technically efficient but ultimately disastrous system?
Watching the film the viewer also finds themselves questioning their own judgment and prejudices. More often than not, these are extremely complex cases with no easy answers, despite the court's best efforts to solve them in five minutes.
Video & Audio
Reportedly shot in 16mm, the full-frame Domestic Violence 2* looks quite good; there's some visible grain but the image is bright and sharp and clean. The film is presented on two single-sided, region-free DVD-Rs produced by Wiseman's own distribution company, Zipporah Films, from whom the DVD can be ordered directly. The mono audio is fine, but there are no subtitle options, no chapter menu (though there are chapter stops) and no Extra Features.
Domestic Violence 2 ends with a montage of Tampa area homes that could be Anytown, U.S.A. From run-down ranch houses to apartment buildings to pricey mansions, domestic violence is everywhere, and it all gets funneled through hellholes like the Hillsborough County Courts. A DVD Talk Collector Series title.
* Though released just six years ago, I couldn't help but blanch at the price of gasoline prominently on display in the opening montage: $1.05.9/gallon.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's latest book, The Toho Studios Story, is on sale now.