Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Stone Angel

Overlooking the movie's hidden complexity and details is not a way to appreciate it.

Director Kari Skogland managed to adapt for the big screen a Canadian literary classic written by Margaret Laurence (1926-1987), which is set in the fictional Manitoban town of Manawaka. Hopefully, while leaving out superfluous details from the novel, Skogland gave us a multi-generational drama that may look a little bit too condensed.

When she learns that her son Marvin (Dylan Baker) and her daughter-in-law Doris (Sheila McCarthy) wants to send her to a nursing home, the nonagenarian Hagar goes away. On her journey, she reminisces key moments of her past. This includes her marriage with Bram Shipley, a hard-drinking farmer, which causes a sudden rupture with her dad who disavowed her. As she meets a stranger on the road, Hagar feels compelled to face her role in her youngest son's death.

However, she'll find it hard to face the truth. Although she's always proudly lived her life without regrets, will she find the courage to admit her wrong-doings for once? As she comes back, in her mind, to the present day, Hagar admits that with ageing comes the moment to get things right even though we may not like it.

Obviously, this film is from the same niche genre as Away from Her. While The Stone Angel also deals with the issue of ageing it takes a different direction: family relations.

With a slow pace that reminds us of many Asian masterpieces, Skogland manages to set the movie’s humorous and, above all, incisive tone right at the first scene. While Hagar may look unsympathetic, heartless and cold for many viewers, for her own world has no shades of grey, the director of White Lies makes up for it by driving the plot through the main characters.

We see how the noble attempt to pass on pride, in a family (that is condemned to poverty), from one generation to the other can have destructive effect. Of course, that destructive effect can be seen in a clash of generation and also through Hagar’s favouritism towards John (Kevin Zegers), her lively youngest son who wants to marry a naïve girl magnificently played by Ellen Page (The Tracey Fragments). In the end, through her journey, Hagar will tear down the estrangement between her and Marvin to get closer in present day.

Although the characters’ development is well-rendered, one may falsely feel that the movie doesn’t reveal everything. Of course, the dialogues are certainly smart, but they just look incomplete because of what the characters don’t explicitly say. Besides, they're developed in a very distant way so that you don't know everything about them at the first look. Whether we like it or not, this is the kind of movie that requires you to closely pay attention to it.

Hopefully, looking at the performance of Ellen Burstyn and Christine Horne is a treat, because they both manage to make Hagar fully come alive on the big screen. Burstyn plays a Hagar who looks back in her past, while Horne plays one who literally let her feelings control her. While Horne is a young actress, she and Burstyn both have no difficulty to bear the movie on their shoulders.

Rating: 4/5

***


The Stone Angel
Canada/UK (2008)
Length: 115 minutes
Genre: Drama
Screenplay by: Kari Skogland
Director: Kari Skogland
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Christine Horne, Cole Hauser, Kevin Zegers and Ellen Page

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