Greetings again from the darkness. The emotional strain associated with being estranged from one’s family reaches a level only those involved can comprehend. In this touching film from writer-director Andrea Pallaoro and co-writer Orlando Tirado, we focus on the return and attempted re-connection of one such person.
The first 15 minutes of the film move at an excruciatingly slow pace, as we get a feel for Monica’s (Trace Lysette, “Transparent”, HUSTLERS 2019) everyday struggles. It appears there is no joy in her life as relationships unravel, and she attempts to find her way. A phone call notifies of her mother’s deteriorating health due to a brain tumor. The news draws Monica back home for the first time since she left years ago. Greeted with a hug from her sister-in-law Laura (Emily Browning, SUCKER PUNCH 2011), Monica meets her nieces and nephews for the first time. A reunion with brother Paul (Joshua Close) is initially quite awkward. The siblings do get their moment a bit later, although it’s when Monica is by her mother’s side that the film excels.
Patricia Clarkson plays Eugenia, a woman whose brain tumor is wreaking havoc not just on her physical presence, but also her emotions. At times, she’s merely a child calling for her own mother, while at other times, she’s hard-headed and demanding that she can take care of herself … this despite the constant attention from her caregiver, Letta (Adriana Barraza, BABEL 2006). She doesn’t appear to recognize Monica, and a running theme is, “Are you going to tell her?” We feel Monica’s pain as she attempts to find solace in merely being close to her mother, but it’s in the bathtub scene where Clarkson’s incredible talent shines through, and the many webs of deceit and uncertainty reach a conclusion.
Lysette’s performance as Monica captures the vulnerability that allows the film to work. Is she isolated or trapped … or is it both? It’s a role that takes 45 minutes of screen time before she’s allowed a smile, though her Cocteau Twins t-shirt is appreciated. Pallaoro’s approach here is restrained (an understatement), and he gives up backstory hesitantly, and in small doses and hints. No scene is overrun with dialogue. Cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi uses close-ups effectively to convey the emotional strain and unseen barriers to closeness. The result is a strong family drama on relationships, decisions, acceptance/rejection, and health issues.
Opens on May 12, 2023