Well, this is it. We've reached the end of the 36th Atlantic Film Festival. Having viewed a grand total of 29 features, I present some thoughts on the final two. I say "so long" because, besides being the preferred parting words in closing gala film Manchester By The Sea, it's that expectant type of goodbye that suggests reunion. And, as I'll mention in my closing below, we at Carbon Arc hope to see you very soon.
I've talked a lot in my coverage about themes that run through various films in the festival, but yesterday I happened upon one so strong that I'd readily pair the two selections as a double feature. Previously, I reviewed a New Zealand acting school dramedy called The Rehearsal, talking about performance as a way of choosing whose stories get shared. Kate Plays Christine, a new documentary by the daring and cerebral Robert Greene, takes that concept to a new extreme. Actress Kate Lyn Sheil is at the centre of the film's conceit, preparing for a role in another movie where she will play Christine Chubbuck, a newscaster from Sarasota, Florida, who committed suicide on live television in the early 1970s. The film starts out as a procedural look at how actors prepare for roles, already interesting material for cinephiles, but Greene and Sheil soon begin to layer on meta-narratives. Is performance an unhealthy impulse? Can a role ever be factual, or is acting necessarily a form of fabrication? Sheil's participation makes her less a subject of documentation and more a medium, in two senses of the word. Not only is she trying to channel a spirit of someone long departed and largely unknowable, but Greene is able to position her as a canvas on which to display the thesis of the film. There are pointed discussions about not fetishizing or glorifying the life (and especially the death) of Chubbuck, and the film thankfully remains more provocative than exploitative. As the movie-within-a-movie progresses through the phases of production, we see scenes that look like something cut straight from a cheesy daytime soap, likely a further comment on the artifice of the whole situation. The film skews didactic in its final moments, but makes for compelling viewing on the whole.
Kenneth Lonergan's latest, a parable of grief in a New England community, makes good on its title immediately with a sweeping opening shot that skims over the water along the coast of an unmistakeably Atlantic fishing village. In Manchester By The Sea, Casey Affleck plays Lee, a janitor from Boston who returns to his hometown following the death of his brother, Joe. Suffering from a terminal heart condition, Joe (Kyle Chandler) was seemingly prepared for his inevitable passing and names Lee as his son's guardian. This comes as a surprise to Lee, who isn't ready to confront his past and return — to Manchester or to parenthood. Affleck has always been skilled in conveying a kind of wounded inner flame, a tortured and oft-underrated contrast to the broody charisma of big brother Ben. His performance here is perfectly calibrated, bringing intensity to the sadder scenes and painting even the many moments of levity with a heartbreaking undercurrent of deep sadness. Some of that credit can undoubtedly be shared with Lonergan's emotionally precise script that combines pathos and humour in an achingly honest and beautiful understanding of how people process loss, or don't. Behind the camera Lonergan is showing signs of growth, rendering the choppy seas and snowy bluster of New England in gorgeous, cold light that suits the tone of the whole production. The cast supporting Affleck is just as strong, especially Michelle Williams as Lee's ex-wife and rising star Lucas Hedges as his nephew, Patrick. The talk is that this might be one to watch at Oscar time, but I'll do you one better: this is one to watch as soon as you possibly can.
Now, maybe you're feeling a bit verklempt. You're wondering, without all the great movies at AFF and without Carbon Arc's blog coverage, how you'll scratch that movie itch. Worry not! We're only one week away from the beginning of our fall season and we're excited to be bringing you more of the best in arthouse cinema. Check out our schedule for exciting listings, including pictures from Greece, Korea, and Guatemala. And, once again, thanks for reading!