by Edward Guthmann, published on April 11, 2003 10:01 AM|
In rural Nova Scotia, three sisters attend their dying mother and struggle to avoid the effects of a family incident that darkened their lives years ago. "Marion Bridge," which takes its name from an optimistic Canadian pop song, is an impressive first feature from Wiebke von Carolsfeld, a German filmmaker in Toronto.
Downbeat but ultimately hopeful, it's a domestic tragedy that cuts clearly to the bone, finding emotional nuance among the family's knotty secrets and dense layers of subterfuge. Molly Parker ("The Center of the World") plays the main role of Agnes, the family black sheep who's come home after years in Toronto.
A recovering drunk and druggie -- she's sober just 65 days, and bound to backslide -- Agnes is the one who likes to "cause a ruckus" and prick at the scabs covering the family's collective shame. Theresa (Rebecca Jenkins), emotionally withdrawn and recently dumped by her husband, assumes the role of family scold and moral judge, while couch potato Louise (Stacy Smith) simply checks out, watching hockey on TV and avoiding the subject of her emerging lesbianism.
Von Carolsfeld sets a slow, deliberate pace, and Daniel MacIvor's script builds suspense by parceling out information slowly -- withholding, for example, the whereabouts of the father or the identity of the girl (Ellen Page) who works at a gift shop and holds a strange fascination for Agnes.
A couple of performances are weak: Smith never gets beneath Louise's surly detachment, and Marguerite McNeil as the dying mother plays exactly one behavioral card in scene after scene: grimacing, crotchety discomfort.
The richest nuggets are the scenes between Parker and Jenkins, who genuinely look alike and could easily be mistaken for sisters -- a rarity for screen siblings. Parker is very good at conveying Agnes' wobbly mixture of instability and emotional bravery, and Jenkins finds the sad, lonely ache below Theresa's urge to regiment the lives of everyone in the family.
Film buffs with long memories may recall Hollis McLaren, the Canadian actress who played opposite Craig Russell in the 1978 film "Outrageous!" She shows up here, as the teenage girl's protective mother. -- Advisory: This film contains raw language.