Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Sensation of Sight: Grade A

The Sensation of Sight (2006)
David Strathairn, Daniel Gillies, Ann Cusak, Joseph Mazello; Writer-director Aaron J. Wiederspahn.

This existential indie echoes Beckett and Mamet in its writing and Hal Hartley (without the sense of humor) in directing. A depressed English professor leaves the classroom to sell encyclopedias door to door pulling a child's wagon. Or at least that is his story. He is actually drifting aimlessly through a bleak, November New England small town, sleeping on park benches and sometimes selling a single book for $20 to strangers who take pity on him. He is supposed to be “finding himself” but he speaks like an idiot savant. It is riveting acting by Strathairn, but at no time do we believe he was a college professor. Meanwhile, multiple subplots in the town develop, and Crash-like, become increasingly interwoven. A depressed ex-con walks around with his guitar, trying to find himself, shadowed by the dead brother he can’t forget. Another ex-con tries to visit his young daughter while the wife and daughter avoid him. The salesman happens to stay at the same B&B as the mother and daughter and happens to knock on the door of the husband, and happens to have lunch with the despondent guitar-player’s father and sister. None of it makes much sense, as with life itself, we are to understand. Nevertheless, Stathairn’s performance is a revelation and the photography is pure eye candy. The dialog is stagey and writerly but engaging. At 133 minutes, the film easily could have been edited, as could almost any film where the writer is the director and a distanced perspective is lacking. Music is highly listenable and varied, but not integrated. All but two of the parts elicit strong acting, making the viewing experience very positive overall.

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