An Illusion review by Joan Ellis     

           If you want to, you can sit in “Marion Bridge” and note the missteps common to a first film:  hesitations, inconsistencies, and uncertainties.  Or you can sit there and marvel at a realism so genuine that you will feel you have stepped into this family’s life, so much so that a times you will feel like an intruder.  How did this happen, who gets the credit?

                Director Wiebke von Carolsfeld tells the story of three sisters gathered in their small hometown in Nova Scotia to tend their alcoholic mother as she dies.  Angie (Molly Parker), whose return from a rehab is not welcomed by the others, has alienated them in the past with her own alcoholism.  Her visits meant drunks brought home for sleepovers, unreliability, self-indulgence. Her sisters, Theresa (Rebecca Jenkins) and Louise (Stacy Smith), are not glad to see her.   But this time, Angie is 65 days sober.

                Chain smoking and vulnerable, Angie brings a newly clear eye to family, home, and the problems that need to be addressed.  She plunges into cleaning the filthy house and volunteers to take care of her mother while Theresa continues her job cleaning the local rectory and Louise channel surfs her way through daily life.  Sober and determined, Angie jumps into her new role while the others, accustomed to her past behavior, expect her to relapse.  “It’s what you’ve always done before.” 

                As Angie becomes the catalyst for family change, Theresa and Louise realize not that their sister has become a new person, but that she has recovered her real self, and they allow, tentatively, friendship and trust to take root.  With that, they can begin to explore the pale lives they have never left behind. 

                The three lead actresses are uncannily alike in looks and manner.  Given individual shadings, they could be sisters in any real life family.  Molly Parker is especially successful as Angie, working with subtlety as she refuses to overreact to her sisters’ faults.  As they sense this, they stop overreacting to hers. 

There are no easy fixes here; it is a depressing movie, but on some level it is astonishing.  The sisters drive along the roads of Nova Scotia, stopping here and there, dipping in and out of the subsistence living standard in the small houses that line the shores of the extraordinarily beautiful water that so often does not define life for the Canadians who live near it.  No one mentions or interacts with the natural beauty around them; they just live their lives in and around rolling hills, pines, and water, entirely unconnected to it.

By the end of the movie, I wanted to say to those sisters, “Excuse me for watching your lives, uninvited.”  That’s how real they are.  Give credit to the director, the actors and a give a big salute to Canadian simplicity.  There is no melodrama here, no overacting – just real people dealing with demons, dealing with life.   


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