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Libero De Rienzo
A fable of innocence: thirteen-year-old Aviva Victor wants to be a 'mom'. She does all she can to make this happen, and comes very close to succeeding, but in the end her plan is thwarted by her sensible parents. So she runs away, still determined to get pregnant one way or another, but instead finds herself lost in another world, a less sensible one, perhaps, but one pregnant itself with all sorts of strange possibility. She takes a road trip from the suburbs of New Jersey, through Ohio to the plains of Kansas and back. Like so many trips, this one is round-trip, and it's hard to say in the end if she can ever be quite the same again, or if she can ever be anything but the same again. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
Todd Solondz, is a man who dares to go where other auteurs would not go. As a result, his films are tremendous achievements because of what he decides to explore on screen. Obviously, his films are not directed for the masses. His films are appreciated by a small group that know what Mr. Solondz is capable of tackling. This is a man who appears not to know shy away from getting involved in what is wrong with the suburban society he seems to know so well.
If you haven't seen the film, please stop reading here.
In this new film, Todd Solondz takes us back to the Wieners, the family that he introduced to us in his debut, as we watch the closed casket of Dawn. At the same time we are shown another family that are related to the Wieners, the Victors. The director loves to examines the family dynamics, as it's the case with the study he does on the Victors.
Aviva Victor is a girl who wants to have a child. Alas, it's not going to happen any time soon. We see, in painful detail what this young woman does to her suburban parents. Joyce, the mother, is shocked and horrified. There's only one thing in her mind to do: Aviva is made to have an abortion, to which she doesn't agree, but one that is forced on herself.
Joyce, the materialistic mother, in a scene that is about the best thing in the film, tries to reason with Aviva and offers her own story about how she had also aborted a baby, who would have been named Henry, after her father. Her motives are purely based on whatever sacrifices the arrival of the unwanted baby would have meant in the Victors life.
Aviva, after the botched abortion by Dr. Fleisher, takes to the road in a way to show her rebellion against what has been forced on her. Aviva, for her young age, is extremely wise as to what to do and what to expect from the different people she meets along the way.
The device by Mr. Solondz to have eight different actors play Aviva, pays up in a way one wouldn't even have thought it would. Each one of the actor/actress leaves his/her own imprint in playing this disturbed girl. The most appealing of the different people playing the girl is the "Sunshine Aviva", the Afro-American that makes quite an impression in her take on this sad lost soul.
When Aviva is found by the side of a brook, the kind Peter Paul brings her to the Sunshines' home. These amazingly couple are too good to be true, as one discovers later on. The motherly Mama Sunshine is anyone's idea of how a mother should be. Not having family of her own, they have taken about a dozen children, each with a physical problem, but who appear to lead a happy existence with the Sunshines.
Peter Paul takes Aviva one day to the dump site where some of the discards from the abortion hospital take the fetuses. Aviva is horrified, she identifies to the fact that wanting to have a child of her own, this reality hitting her in the face is too much for her. Aviva then takes to the road again with the man she has had a sexual encounter before. This proves fatal as he is a man on a mission, an executioner that acts for the hate group that the Sunshines belong to.
The film is multi layered with an incredible texture between the adventures Aviva experiences. "Palindromes" is a hypnotic film. Any viewer falling under its spell is in for a magic ride guided by Todd Solondz.
What the director has gotten from this talented cast is one of the best ensemble playing from any indie film this year. Ellen Barkin has one of the best moments of her career as Joyce Victor in the sequence where she tries to explain to Aviva the reason for aborting. Debra Monk, a fine, but underused actress, is magnificent as Mama Sunshine. Ms. Monk's appearance shows us a woman that on the surface is something, when in reality she is a monster. Sharon Wilkins, the "Sunshine Aviva" gives a compassionate reading that reveals so much of the young girl she represents. Alexander Brickel's Peter Paul, the boy that befriends Aviva, plays the sweet boy perfectly. Also in the cast, the wonderful Stephen Adly Guirgis, who plays the right wing enforcer fanatic.
Mr. Solondz is to be congratulated in getting a tamed performance from the otherwise intense Jennifer Jason Leigh, who plays one of the most quiet Avivas.
This film proves that Mr. Solondz loves to takes chances in telling stories that are dark and not commercial, but he makes them resonate with his viewers because he doesn't compromise with what he perceives as the truth around him. This is a man who is not a wishy washy when it comes to taking chances in being an original.
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