"Three Days of Rain" is an auspicious feature debut for writer-director Michael Meredith and a fitting opener for the fifth Method Fest, which spotlights independent films with an accent on acting. Inspired by the short stories of Anton Chekhov, Meredith has woven together a half-dozen portraits of contemporary lives-on-the-edge in this quietly searing drama. Presented under the aegis of Wim Wenders, the film deserves further festival exposure and could see art house action in the hands of the right distributor.
Opening with jazz strains, a disc jockey's mellow voice-over relaying storm predictions and striking shots of an unfamiliar skyline, "Three Days" introduces its six central figures, residents of Cleveland, through elliptical scenes. The seventh main character is the rain-drenched cityscape itself, shot in a moody blue palette by director of photography Cynthia Pusheck, whose elegant, compelling visuals are a crucial unifying element. Deftly avoiding a frequent pitfall of multiple-character studies, Meredith does not impose a uniform performance style on his cast, instead allowing each to find the pulse of the role. And in Meredith's strong script, every role is a gem of understated complexity.
Football great Don Meredith (the filmmaker's father) is a strong presence here, setting the tone as a cabbie who moves through his days with a restless melancholy. Reeling from a recent loss, he seeks comfort from strangers, but his blank, stunned sadness is met at every turn with self-centered dramas -- most strikingly in Blythe Danner's darkly comic cameo as one of his fares.
In the most direct expression of these stories' Old World roots, a tile maker (Michael Santoro) whose work is ruined by the rain beseeches God with a why-me lament and relentlessly pursues a widow (Penny Allen) who owes him money. Peter Falk plays another character seeking cash, but Waldo's search is chronic. A retiree on an endless pub-crawl, he repeatedly phones his son to finagle loans he'll never repay. Falk captures the duplicity, contrition and maudlin charm of the alcoholic with an incisiveness so real it's hard to watch at times.
While there are no easy answers for these characters, some provide more clear-cut rooting interests than others. Erick Avari brings a simmering intensity to the role of Alex, a well-heeled professional whose encounter with a man living on the street throws his entire life into question and fuels his growing resolve to choose kindness over convention.
But not everyone has that option. Two of the most affecting story lines involve characters who must endure cruelty that is anything but casual. As a developmentally disabled janitor being set up by his boss (Chuck Cooper), Joey Bilow creates a childlike character without sentimentalizing him. Tess (Merle Kennedy), a young heroin addict tethered to brutal circumstances, is a composite of delicacy and steely despair.
Commenting on one another but never intersecting, the vignettes are juxtaposed with increasing urgency, thanks in large part to the heartbeat-precise editing of Peter Przygodda and Sabine Hoffman. The running commentary of Bob Belden's jazz score and Lyle Lovett's DJ patter underscores the sense of connectedness, which culminates in a visual symphony of Edward Hopper images: near-empty diners and lonely rooms, new lovers about to face the morning. "Three Days" eloquently taps into the aching, resilience and battered hope at the heart of Chekhov's fiction.
THREE DAYS OF RAIN
Director-screenwriter: Michael Meredith
Producers: Bill Stockton, Robert Casserly
Executive producers: Henry Herzing, Roger St. Cyr
Director of photography: Cynthia Pusheck
Production designer: Scott Wittmer
Music: Bob Belden
Costume designer: Bobby Brewer-Wallin
Editors: Peter Przygodda, Sabine Hoffman
Waldo: Peter Falk
John: Don Meredith
Thunder: Michael Santoro
Tess: Merle Kennedy
Alex: Erick Avari
Dennis: Joey Bilow
Jim: Chuck Cooper
Helen: Penny Allen
Woman in Cab: Blythe Danner:
Disc Jockey: Lyle Lovett
Lisa: Heather Kafka
Running time -- 96 minutes
No MPAA rating