May-Alice Culhane was a successful soap opera star, but a car accident has left her bound to a wheelchair. She returns to her now-empty family home in the bayous of Louisiana which she had ... See full summary »
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In 1966 New Jersey, Jill Rosen, a frustrated high schooler, is intrigued by an enigmatic new student known only as the Sheik. Sheik is an Italian whose primary interests are his car, Frank ... See full summary »
May-Alice Culhane was a successful soap opera star, but a car accident has left her bound to a wheelchair. She returns to her now-empty family home in the bayous of Louisiana which she had eagerly left years before. She drinks heavily and vents her bitterness on the succession of nurses who are hired to take care of her and immediately quit because she is so unbearable. Chantelle is the latest of these nurses, and May-Alice is told that Chantelle is the last nurse she'll get. Chantelle for reasons of her own, is also in a position where she badly needs the job to work out. The movie focuses on how these two women become friends and help each other heal emotionally. Written by
I have only caught up with two of Sayles' directorial works "Limbo" and "Passion Fish". Though the subjects of the two films are quite dissimilar, Sayles penchant for building interesting character profiles is unmistakable in both. Both films have an interesting screenplay, developing anecdotes that seem to be strung together like beads on a necklace. In "Passion Fish", a somewhat successful actress watches TV soaps and makes comments. Zoom out of the situation and you realize that situation itself is close to a TV soap opera. Now directors like Robert Altman and Paul Mazursky have done similar themes with considerable success. European cinema (Claude Sautet for one) has numerous examples of what Sayles did in the US a decade before in Europe. Yet Sayles like Mazursky ("An Unmarried Woman","Harry and Tonto", etc.) is able to instill humor and pathos into his celluloid essays with considerable felicity.
What makes "Passion Fish" tick? At a very obvious level there is a remarkable performance by Mary MacDonnell. You need to be a stage actress to have done justice to the demanding role of a paraplegic--perhaps Billie Whitelaw or Anne Bancroft or Joanne Woodward would have fared as well as Mary. Much of Mary's acting is limited to voice modulation and restricted body movements.
Two other performers stand out: Alfre Woodard and David Strathairn. I have watched Strathairn perform in other movies but he is just superb when working for Sayles.
"Passion Fish" like "Limbo" has a strong musical selection. Sayles, like Michael Mann and Peter Weir, has a good ear for music and sound editing. Yet "Limbo" outclasses "Passion Fish" by a mile in this department, thanks mainly to the song sung by lead actress herself.
Finally the film "Passion Fish" survives on a strong screenplay and above average direction. The screenplay is loaded with social comments expressed in a documentary style: comments on a "business manager" who never appears, race relationships, religion ("she took to it after the second child.."), etc. The film expects us to follow the obvious childhood sweethearts-meet-again route but interestingly does not.
This is the stamp of Sayles--a filmmaker who makes a sudden twist towards the end that makes all what preceded look better than it did. He did this in "Limbo" with aplomb, but "Passion fish" seems to anticipate the more accomplished storytelling of "Limbo"--the dark swamp metaphor of "Passion Fish" seems to be heralding the cloudy sky of "Limbo". One thing is certain--Sayles is an important screenplay writer comparable to David Mamet and Terrence Malick. As a director one could argue that his work is not new in style ("Limbo" harks back to "The Oxbow Incident") yet he cannot be dismissed--his work stands out amongst contemporary American movies, especially independent cinema.
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