Wednesday, August 28, 2013

“Still Mine” ... a small Canadian film of note

Michael Keaton - as Batman
Summer is thought to be the time when "blockbusters" prevail at your neighborhood movie theater & throughout the Metro area ... movies, that is, full of thunderous explosions, bizarre adventure, tawdry robberies, incessant gunfire & hyperbolic explosions, animation-based narrative, arachnid superheroes, biotech thrillers, pubescent & puerile comedies. There are, fortunately, serious (small, thoughtful, independent) films too depicting adult life, adult issues & adult situations - in fiction film or documentary formats, domestic & foreign. 

While clearly not as ubiquitous as the so-called blockbuster or the latest "hot" adolescent mega-movie, these "adult" films can be found & viewed in various "art" houses all around the city (Cinema Village & Film Forum, just to name two), and I've discussed several of them in earlier posts (The Hijacking, Renoir, Plimpton). 

Additionally, and also worth your while, is another small, compelling but somewhat irksome, infuriating & destabilizing Danish film entitled The Hunt (directed by Thomas Vinterberg & starring Mads Mikkelsen; 2012) centered on a thirty-something male kindergarten teacher-assistant (Mikkelsen) living & working in a rural Danish community. 

The whole town becomes increasingly (even brutally) hostile & incensed after the teacher is accused of sexually assaulting a young girl (his best friend's slightly off-balance daughter) and engendering a climate of near-mass hysteria just before and during the Christmas holiday period. A difficult film to watch, but, all the same, a small-scale, worthwhile narrative film to view & reflect upon dealing with a not altogether uncommon societal situation (these days, anyway) but one whose treatment here is, well, both perplexing & unique.

In Still Mine, a recently released Canadian film starring Genevieve Bujold & James Cromwell, and directed by Michael McGowan (based on a true story), the focus is upon an aging New Brunswick farming couple, the Morrisons (he 87; and she, perhaps in her mid-70s), their long marriage, and the increasingly complex & realistic demands impacting their lives precipitated by the condition of the wife, Irene, and her incipient symptoms of dementia (probably Alzheimer's). As the narrative progresses, we witness, in various tender, emotion-laden scenes, the slow stages of Irene's mental deterioration - and the husband's seemingly rational responses to the new (the latest) conditions. For example, following her fall down a flight of stairs, with no significant physical injury, the husband (Craig) arranges for their bed to be situated on the first floor where there are no steps to navigate. As more time passes, it becomes obvious to the viewer, evident to Craig and to his adult children, that feisty Irene is now consistently having difficulty recalling people in appropriate contexts, remembering both significant and mundane events, and, at various times, registering her own needs, movements, and doings when Craig is not around and available to guide her.
Cromwell & Bujold

As if coping with, and monitoring, a mentally deteriorating spouse, on a daily basis (and cooking, collecting eggs, milking cows, harvesting & selling strawberries, and so forth) is not complicated enough, Craig Morrison has determined that the couple can only survive their aging (slowly deteriorating) ordeal if they can live in a small new one-floor home that he intends to build on a lovely plot of land on less than an acre of the 2,000 he owns. In fact, he succeeds in building the home despite the major permit and construction & local legal impediments he must overcome along the way.  

Cromwell & Bujold
But Craig is a tough old bird and prideful about what he can do, should continue to do, and can't do (i.e., he just can't stop the construction process as the local authorities insist he must). Despite the legal roadblocks due to town ordinances & bureaucrats, despite Craig's impending  (precarious) court appearance, and despite a lengthy separation from Irene because her condition has worsened and she is confined to a hospital/rehabilitation center for a time - the Morrisons actually finish the project and move in ... enabling them to celebrate a few more birthdays in a comfortable, new &, above all, safe home environment. In the end, the couple - perhaps Craig more obviously - seem tougher and healthier for their battle with encroaching terminal disease and with the construction inspectors & legal representatives of their New Brunswick locality.
James Cromwell & Campbell Scott

This film, though, recounts a tender, upbeat story, however sad, mournful, disturbing & difficult - and inevitable - some of the scenes prove to be along the way. There is the rather painful, stress-filled scene just outside the farmhouse where Irene is settled in out in the cold night air, refusing adamantly, despite the intense cold, to be taken inside to her warm bed; there is the sequence, too, where Irene slips away from her home and ends up a considerable distance away near a local lake, just on the beach, simply watching & wondering (seemingly steady & safe) in this new spot, until Craig finally discovers her whereabouts and slowly, after a bit of his own watching, wraps his long, safe, purposeful arms around her.  

Bujold & Cromwell
Still Mine, spare, powerful & intense, remains the story of two people who have been close & in love for some 50+ years caring deeply the one for the other ... and both, in concrete & demonstrable ways, sacrificing long stretches of their lives - one for the other - achieving a rare level of commitment, contentment & happiness at various points along the way ... and (surely) as we witness them approaching the end of life, the very end!