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23 january 1999 - sundance film festival

autumn heart
a sassy film exploring american family drama that just skirts cheese.

It's about family - a mother raises three daughters, divorced from her husband who raises the son. Their lives each take off in different directions and when one member of the family hits the hospital they are drawn together again. The class differences, the age differences, the cultural references - this movie is sharp. Daytime TV, deeply local Boston hesher culture honoured to a depth that allows us into all the bowling alleys and dance clubs we have known and loved.

Each of the actors plays a tough character with simple depth - willing to lay their veneer on the line to convey a sense of wraught emotional suffering. In fact the family discommunication is so effectively conveyed that i had four streams of tears running down my face at the same time, and i tend to avoid crying in movies - i dislike manipulation. But as Debbie said, it seems done in good faith - the portraits, the characters are real, through grit and details. The audience responded with loud cheers and many tears - many folks had red eyes and remarkable touchedness about them afterwards. Autumn Heart is effective direct deliberate emotionalism.

The film is relentlessly human - the character in the hospital passes gas and makes a funny comment, when was the last time that happened in a film?

The piano score seems tacked on - the music transitions are abrupt. and the sound mixing is tough - Ally Sheedy makes wry comments under her breath too hard to hear, and the scene when Daniel the son and his fiance are standing on the bridge it's nearly impossible to make out actors talking over the crickets, water sounds and soundtrack.

and occasionally the film shows its seams - extreme family reconciliation moment or pointed avoidance, followed immediately by some effacing humour by the daytime TV daughter. maybe that's the way life works? families have jokers who always break an akward moment with a well placed comment?

I asked the writer, Davidlee Willson, what compelled him to write such a moving film. he was choked up himself, he responded that spending his first christmas away from his own three sisters (working on boxing helena) inspired him to visit the subject of family separation - what if he had never known his sisters?

This was a wonderful sundance experience - having that kind of emotional catharsis over the state of the modern american family with so many people experiencing the same depth of emotion created a general quiet swelling elation for the film. Will it play to america-at-large? my friends were forecasting a limited distribution - it's too highbrow. too particular.

I think the fatherhood and motherhood, and especially the examination of divorce and unification, these are all so relevant and gripping today. And the film is very direct, very accessible I believe. If america-at-large gets a taste of this film i think it will do quite well for itself. Deservedly so.

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