Struggling artist Anna Larsen's mother has never understood her. So when Anna returns home to Minnesota to help care for her ailing mom, she brings years of family baggage with her. But the rediscovery of a magical mailbox from her childhood and the search to solve its mystery forces Anna to confront the fact that maybe she's the one who doesn't understand.Written by
Dragonfly is the best indie movie I've seen in a long time. It fits into that take-a-deep-breath-and-return-home-to-deal-with-your-past film genre, but Dragonfly avoids the tired clichés.
Anna - played perfectly by Cara Greene who also co-directed and wrote the screenplay - is an unfulfilled artist who receives a phone call from her brother asking her to come home to Minnesota and help with their sick mom.
But Anna is reluctant and scared. Not only do Anna and her mother have a strained relationship, but her mother is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's. And so begins a story that's as heartfelt as it is important.
From the start, the film's aesthetics are beautiful. Anna is an artist and photographer. As she explains to a gallery owner in an amusingly awkward scene, Anna's work involves painting over the photographs she takes to "change the focus" of each image.
It's a revealing moment that brings clarity to the unexpected use of animation throughout the film. From the opening credits, as Anna moves through her world, we see her imagined paintings come to life (animated by the talented Emily Fritze) - swirls of light begin to color an otherwise ordinary skyline, leaves fall into and move through a cityscape, a bicycle wheels across a Midwestern sky.
The artwork makes explicit Anna's hidden ambition and, at the same time, draws attention to what can't be seen by others, especially her mother. Most of all, Anna's choice to add layers of paint to moments frozen in time and memory suggest a covering-up - even denial - of difficult emotions and realities.
Across the board, the casting and acting is spot-on, with Jennifer Blagen, who plays Anna's mother, deserving special praise. It takes a talented team of writers, filmmakers, and actors to portray not only the complexities of dementia but also how one person's progressive disease affects a whole family.
The filmmakers of Dragonfly masterfully avoid the tired clichés of returning-home tales and, instead, force us to see every character - including Anna, our artistic protagonist - as flawed and frustrated and struggling.
Dragonfly is an important film because it opens a window into the often hidden realities of Alzheimer's as a disease that is covered over with stigma and shame. This is the story's heart - and if Anna were the film's writer, then the beautiful cinematography and outstanding acting are her layers of paint to the honest and important story beneath.
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