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The Pier (I) (2011)
8/10
Terrific little film and not quite as dark as the trailer would lead you to believe it would be.
4 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Gerard Hurley's film "The Pier" is currently on the festival circuit and it finished second in the Audience Favorite balloting at the Maine International Film Festival where I watched it. This small low budget indie from Ireland is basically a two-hander between Hurley's character Jack, a carpenter working in the United States, and his estranged father Larry (Karl Johnson) back in Ireland. After falling for a ruse to return home to visit his father, Jack returns to find that both men have considerable work to do in dealing with their relationship especially concerning the loss of the family's wife and mother that has never healed and inflicted ongoing pain. The film's title comes from where she was lost. While the film does deal with the profound issues of death, dying, loss, and grief, it does deliver its story with more charm and wit than the trailer attached to the film's IMDb page might indicate. Part of this comes from the County Cork settings and the local (nonprofessional) actors playing Larry's neighbors and fellow townspeople. Part comes from Hurley's clever script and the actor's performances. Lili Taylor plays a divorced American woman who has come to Ireland for the dual purpose of finding her roots and giving herself emotional space to get through the unspecified trauma of her failed marriage. Lili does do a great job, but her role doesn't have to do the heavy lifting to move the story along. Hurley and Johnson do an excellent job in accomplishing that. Johnson (no relation) delivers a terrific performance that likely would receive Oscar consideration in a higher profile film. This is a film that will need to be sought out at film festivals and art house venues, but it is well worth the effort to find.
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5/10
Maine shines in promising, though flawed, first film
26 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This made-in-Maine film had its world premiere at the Maine International Film Festival. Up-and-coming actress Caitlin Fitzgerald and first-time director Caroline von Kuhn teamed to write the script focusing on universal themes of friendship, loss, and grief. Fitzgerald has used her stomping ground of Midcoast Maine centered around Camden as the film's setting and this area in summertime is beautiful to behold. Cinematographer Eve Cohen takes full advantage of this setting. The film's storyline has twenty-something Charlie (Fitzgerald) returning home to give the eulogy for her longtime childhood friend Cat. Although it is conceivable that some film-goers may be able to use the details from their own death/loss experiences to access the film's themes, many may find the scriptwriters entirely too parsimonious in story details to become fully engaged in the film. Although these pieces of information may not be essential for the film to succeed in engaging their audience or essential to the story, addressing the circumstances of Cat's death or explaining why Charlie is doing the eulogy since she is clearly struggling with it would aid the audience in its "willful suspension of disbelief." These are just a couple of examples of information being withheld from the audience. The film does do well in those sequences when Charlie and her girlfriends reminisce about the adventures that they had with Cat while growing up. While it is clear that Charlie has a very strained relationship with Cat's lesbian lover Lola, only a few details emerge quite late in the film about the relationship between these three women and the film ends with a lot of questions still unanswered. Similarly themed films have used devices such as flashbacks, dream sequences, or voice-over to advance the story, but these were not used. Charlie does periodically experience flashes of memory, but the audience isn't allowed inside these experiences. As she fitfully works on the eulogy Charlie does post pictures and keepsakes on a board, but the audience observes this from an oblique angle that makes piecing together her relationship with her friend from it very challenging. The film's final scene feels tacked on and unearned. All in all, this is a promising first film that looks good and received some musical and other contributions from the local community that the filmmakers acknowledge were not budgeted items in their low budget film. However, it doesn't delve as deeply into its subject matter as it could have and there clearly are many directions the film could have gone in both how it told its story and where the story went.
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Folie à deux (2012)
6/10
Dark journey
23 July 2012
I saw this film at the Maine International Film Festival where it had its first public screening. This film is inspired by a true story and introduces the audience to a young man and a young woman. They initially do not appear to have any connection to each other. Both start to make their way to a down-on-its-luck, out-of-season English coastal resort community. Their travels are accompanied by a haunting soundtrack that overflows with unease and foreboding. They encounter a series of other characters who have their own quirks and emotional neediness. Some may recur and the audience will be pondering how they fit into the story. The man and woman both occasionally say and do things that offer possible outcomes for where this journey is headed. The film is skillfully made. The filmmakers are enormously successful in creating a tone of apprehension and, despite an economy of dialog, the actors manage to create interest and concern within the audience for what lays ahead for them. It is a dark journey and many may not like what they find at its end.
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1/10
Major disappointment
1 July 2012
My wife and I saw this film at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival under the title "That Summer." This film repeatedly employs what I call "tableau and talk" as it focuses on a visual--perhaps a wall inside a home or an outdoor vista--and then has an off-camera voice-over talk (or more precisely drone) on about something. The film that we saw pretty much opens with the climactic scene so the audience knows very early on where this is headed. It is a film about two couples though the more famous and prosperous couple (Louis Garrel and Monica Bellucci)get the lion's share of the attention. Despite their successes, this couple is clearly more troubled and less happy. They seem to take turns sabotaging the relationship and their actions make neither especially sympathetic. This severely constrains audience investment in the unfolding tragedy. As one may clearly gather from my rating of the film, I was very disappointed. However, I don't think my reaction was atypical for that audience as this was the only festival film out of 30 we saw in Toronto last year for which no one applauded at the end. Every other film that we watched received at least a smattering of applause even though it may have been characterized as polite or even half-hearted.
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