Kati with an I
Shot almost entirely in the span of three days, Kati with an I chronicles the life of Alabama teenager Kati Genthner as she approaches her high school graduation. Small points of conflict arise — Will her fiancé James follow her to North Carolina? Can she peacefully co-exist with his mom? — but they largely take backseat to a collection of singalongs, pool parties, and trips to the mall. Shunning narrative but infused with momentum by director Robert Greene’s terrific editing, Kati foremost represents a tenderly wrought and free-floating treatment of adolescent angst and frivolity and, in the words of my friend Chris Boeckmann, “a fantastic, hazy portrait of a moment.”
Due to its small scope, Kati ultimately feels somewhat slight for much of its duration. Fortunately, Kati benefits from a powerhouse ending — one casually related, easily missed revelation and a brief, terrible moment of introspection — that not only lends a necessary emotional weight to the preceding 80 minutes but even elucidates the canny structure of the film by grounding the conclusion in the present. The relative lack of narrative, small jumps in scenes that evoke the skipping of a record, the periodic reemergence of home videos featuring a younger Kati’s hopes for the future, conversations lost and recovered by the flow and ebb of the nicely understated score: All of these facets converge to recall the imperfect, desultory turning of memory. Considering the skill with which Greene manages to convey this, Kati represents a minor masterpiece of documentary editing.
The revelation additionally helps contextualize the shimmery, ethereal aesthetic offered by Sean Price Williams’ luscious cinematography as injecting a dose of defiant, rose-tinged nostalgia in the face of the future’s inexorable forward march. A principal’s bizarrely inappropriate call to arms posits the transition to adulthood as momentous, James’ mom’s teary offering that “Pomp and Circumstance” is a sad song marks the same as tragic, and Kati plays with the friction between these two conceptions of looming responsibility with an appropriate ambivalence. Yet its whole invokes in me the sad recognition that you don’t realize the best times, the moments of greatest promise and delight, until they’ve already passed. For all its small moments of mirth rooted in the everyday and its joyful experimentation in editing, Kati is at heart a melancholy reproval to the folly of wasted youth.