Director Rebecca Miller, the daughter of Henry Miller, has written & directed a staggeringly painful & greatly aesthetic magic realist tale of two young sisters coping with their talented attractive young mother's severe clinical depression.
The girls invent & perform paganistic magic rituals attempting to heal their mom, all the while afflicted with visitations from an elegant alabaster-white cloven-footed Lucifer who seems to be attracted to the least impure feelings of Angela, & at least one visit from the Virgin Mary to the younger sister, who may herself be some kind of angel with dreams of days when she could fly.
Their father (John Ventimiglia) ranges from more than patient in his own struggle to maintain his family, to angrily frustrated with his wife's morbid moods that occasionally transform into hyper-optimistic manic periods when she lays unrealistic plans which inevitably involve making everybody move again.
He makes a solemn promise never to put her into a "home" where medicated nutjobs shuffle about in slippers. But when she hurts herself, he is guilt-ridden that his promise can't be kept. He's a loving dad, but it is Mom the girls obsess about, withdrawing more & more into a shared dream-reality wherein dolls & toys are protective idols or fetish objects.
The cinematography of Ellen Kuras is exceptional & the visual beauty of the film is sometimes overwhelming. When the girls cover their nude bodies in mud & stand like nymphs or apsaras in a shallows of a swamp, it is like a vision of child priestesses in a primordial world.
The beauty is so extravagant at points in the film, that the few times the sound-boom drops into the frame (suggesting a degree of amateurism in this independent feature) seems rather puzzling. On the one hand these filmmakers cared a great deal about the film's visual impact. On another level they couldn't be bothered either to reshoot or frame-out the boom's intrusions.
Anna Levine as their misery-infused mother Mae is a truly eerie beauty perpetually imitating a young Ava Gardner or Jean Harlow. She believes how she looks is more important than how she feels, then dreams of herself as Barbie on a sterile landscape with spider.
The girls are sweet, brave, protective of one another, imaginative, beautiful, in a constant state of worry, & very real. When Mom's taken off to the loony bin, these girls take off on a divine quest or odyssey, led by signs & omens. They believe they are journeying through The Big Nothing, a mirror of our own world, where people go in dreams or death.The performances that Miller got out of first-time actors Miranda Stuart Rhyne & Charlotte Eve Blythe as Angela & Ellie are amazing.
I didn't enter this film with the highest hopes, as I've come to think of Sundance "gems" as too often miserable & predictable pablum for sedated suburbanites who think they have good taste but don't ever wanna be shook up. The actor on the cast list who made me want to see Angela anyway was Vincent Gallo, who alas no more than a cameo. Yet once the film started, right from the opening panning shot, it had me. "This could be great," I said to Granny Artemis. "Looks like it," she agreed. And sure nuff.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl