by Jason Anderson, published on April 17, 2003 14:04|
Wiebke von Carolsfeld had an immediate reaction when she first read Marion Bridge, a play that her friend and former roommate Daniel MacIvor hoped to also turn into a film. Set on MacIvor's native Cape Breton Island, it's the earthy, engaging story of three sisters -- rebellious Agnes (Molly Parker), steely Theresa (Rebecca Jenkins) and reclusive Louise (Stacy Smith) -- who contend with assorted troubles in their past when their mother comes home to die. Since von Carolsfeld had already edited MacIvor's short films, he was wondering if she'd like to edit this one, too.
"I read it on Toronto Island," says von Carolsfeld in a recent interview. "After I finished, I got up and ran to a phone booth to tell him, 'Daniel, I love this script -- of course I want to edit it!' I really loved those characters. They're struggling with themselves and the world around them but they do it with such panache and vigour and humour. I really connected with them. They're all conflicted in their own ways, but as a reader -- and hopefully the audience feels the same way -- I'm not about to sit in judgment. I'm forced to see myself in them."
After MacIvor moved on to a different film project (the recent Past Perfect) and encouraged her to option the film herself, von Carolsfeld wound up getting to know these characters very, very well. The winner of the award for best Canadian first feature at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, Marion Bridge is the German-born filmmaker and editor's directorial debut. As well as creating a portrait of the Maritimes that is richly textured but thankfully devoid of quaintness or quirkiness, von Carolsfeld displays the editing chops she developed on films like The Five Senses and The Bay of Love and Sorrows. As a domestic drama full of heated sibling confrontations and teary revelations, Marion Bridge certainly had the potential to become overly maudlin or earnest. Instead, the material benefits greatly from the lean, stark quality of the performances, direction and editing.
"My whole philosophy with storytelling is to get away with as little as possible," says von Carolsfeld. So if I can get a plot point or a character trait or something across with the least amount -- be it a look or a line of dialogue. That's what you learn as an editor, and once an editor, always an
editor. I knew the minimum number of shots I needed and what cover shots I needed later if the beautiful master shot that I had envisioned didn't work out. I would basically cover my back and make sure that I could get out earlier if I needed to."
This technique, she notes, had as much to do with the film's tight budget as any particular aesthetic decision. "That would annoy the actors a little bit," she says. "I'd have two takes and say, 'That's fine.' But one would say, 'I didn't have my full run yet.' I'd be like, 'That's OK, because we have the first part on the first take and the second part on the second take.' 'But, but, I want to give you one full, beautiful take!' More often than not, I would give it to them and I would get a really great performance. And the film is all about the performances."
MacIvor's script and von Carolsfeld's direction elicit nuanced turns from every member of the predominantly female cast. The film also derives both dramatic tension and wry humour from the sisters' ability to chatter ceaselessly yet never mention the things most vital to them. "As Molly Parker's character Agnes says, 'We live on the island of shh!' Everybody talks all the time but they never, ever talk about the actual issue. That made it really interesting to perform all the scenes, because there'd be one thing on the surface and something very different underneath -- there were always these two currents running against each other."
Besides raving about her leads and supporters like MacIvor, Jeremy Podeswa and Atom Egoyan, von Carolsfeld gives special kudos to two Marion Bridge cast members who might otherwise go unnoticed. One is Hollis McLaren, the seldom-seen star of the fantabulous Outrageous! (1977), who appears as the sisters' stepmother. The other is Ashley MacIsaac, who plays one of Agnes' friends. The infamous musician is surprisingly hard to recognize when he isn't fiddling or urinating.
"But he is snorting coke and kissing Molly Parker," says von Carolsfeld, laughing. "The joke was that we inned Ashley MacIsaac."
Editorial Rating: 3 out of 5