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Finding Home (8/10)

by Tony Medley

A bewitching, evocative, atmospheric romantic mystery of repressed and false memories, 21-year-old Amanda (Lisa Brenner) gets a call from Katie (Geneviève Bujold) telling her that Amanda’s beloved grandmother, Esther (Louis Fletcher), has died. Amanda had been suddenly taken away from Esther when she was 11 by Amanda’s mother, Grace (Jeanneta Arnette), and has been troubled by bad, jarring memories ever since. She returns for the funeral to the island and the inn Esther owned, The Cliff’s Edge Inn (the actual location is the Felsted House on Deer Island, Maine, commissioned by world renowned architect, Frederick Olmsted, designer of New York’s Central Park and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park), and her world is turned upside down.

Why is she troubled by these terrible flashes of memories? Why is she so angry at Katie’s son, Dave (Misha Collins), who was her little boy friend on the island with her a decade before? Why is her mother so cold? All the while, she is troubled by her abortive relationship with her grandmother, whom she loved so dearly, and who loved her without qualification. What happened?

Captivating cinematography by Jeffrey Seckendorf and a brilliant, multi layered script are wrapped in a two-leveled love story inside a delightful mystery. The ambience of living on an island in Maine is palpable throughout.

Director/co-writer (with Grafton S. Harper) Lawrence David Foldes shot the picture in the widescreen Super 35mm format because he wanted to capture the wide expanse of the rugged Maine coastline and give the picture the sweeping epic feel of David Lean’s films Ryan’s Daughter and Doctor Zhivago.  “Maine is horizontal, not vertical,” said Foldes.  He designed four distinct visual looks for the film to differentiate Amanda’s present state of consciousness from her childhood memories and interpretations of her grandmother’s diary.  Each of these looks was designed with varying transitions between them.  “With Amanda’s fond remembrances of her childhood we let the viewer drift into her memories in the same way we do in our real lives: we get distracted, start thinking about something, then bounce quickly back to reality” says Foldes.  Amanda’s traumatic memories and dreams are disturbing and consist of rapid-fire fragments, random bits of lost memories that are not linear or cohesive.  They appear several times throughout the film, adding new information and angles with each repetition, becoming more cohesive as Amanda struggles to piece together the chain of events leading up to her traumatic departure from her grandmother’s island resort years before.  Amanda’s visions of the events written in her grandmother’s diary reflect her interpretation of a young woman’s coming of age in the 1940’s.

All the performances are very good, but some are exceptional. Arnette as Amanda’s cold, horrid mother, Grace, presents a forbidding picture, one of the more unlovable creatures you’ll see in cinema, even if her attitude is finally explained. Another is Collins as the lovelorn Dave who can’t figure out the reason for Amanda’s apparently negative attitude towards him.

Geneviève Bujold was a last minute replacement for Ann-Margret, who was originally cast for the pivotal role of Katie, but had to pull out because of a serious injury. As a result, in order to explain Bujold’s accent the scintillating script was revised to explain that Kate is a native of Quebec who had moved to the island many years ago.

Bujold insisted that she be allowed to perform the role with no makeup. In addition, she bought her wardrobe herself from thrift shops and second hand stores in Maine. Even in her ‘60s Bujold is still as beautiful as she was in “Anne of the Thousand Days” (1969) with a Gene Tierney-type face that is still one of the more uniquely beautiful ever to appear on the silver screen. Talk about a Mona Lisa smile, she has always appeared to me to be amused at something she knows but nobody else suspects.

Adding to the natural look Bujold demanded, she insisted that Foldes not light her like a movie star. In accordance with her wishes, Foldes and cinematographer Jeffrey Seckendorf eschewed Hollywood staples like perfect, shadow-free lighting. One scene, in particular, between Amanda and Kate in the kitchen shows both actresses with occasional shadows flitting across their faces, something you’ll never see in a typically perfectly lit Hollywood film, unless shadows are a part of the plot.

The exceptional cast is as noteworthy as the quality of the film. Prescott, the minion of Amanda’s too slick boy friend, Nick (Johnny Messner), is played by Justin Henry, who was the little boy in Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). Sandy Ward, who plays Julian the Lobsterman, died two weeks after completion of principal photography. He is so convincing that Foldes asked citizens of Maine at a screening if they thought he was an actor or really from Maine. A large majority voted for Maine, so effective his accent and mannerisms. Wrong, he was just a terrific actor. Esther’s attorney, Lester Brownlow, is played by Jason Miller in the final role of a prolific, eclectic career. As a writer, Miller won a Pulitzer Prize for his play “That Championship Season” (1972). As an actor he was an Oscar nominee for the part of Father Damian in “The Exorcist” (1973). He passed away onstage of a heart attack during post production.

This is a film that shows a deep love and affection between Amanda and her grandmother, Esther, and Brenner does a sensitive job of expressing Amanda’s unrelenting sense of loss. The best part of the movie for me was the way Foldes captures the desperation Amanda feels for having her relationship with Esther abruptly broken and then losing her without any further communication with her.

Shot on a $5 million budget, this film blows many Hollywood blockbusters to shreds.

December 8, 2005