Tuesday, January 10, 2017

In Howell and Robinson's new "disappearing husband" movie, CLAIRE IN MOTION, the mystery is all about intimacy

Who are we? That's the question finally posed by the quiet-but-compelling little indie movie, CLAIRE IN MOTION, in which a mother and her young son try to come to terms with the sudden but continuing disappearance of dad. The movie has some of the earmarks of both a thriller and the "wronged wife" genres, but it won't take long before you realize that everything from its tone and pacing to its deepest concerns involve ideas that simply go contrary to other movies with plots at all similar to this.

Yes, there is a mystery here: What happened to husband Paul Hunger (surely the choice of last name here is intentional) after he goes into the woods for a few-days trip and is never seen again. Only his empty car is soon discovered. From the outset, writer/directors Annie J. Howell (shown at left) and Lisa Robinson (below) offer up an odd little "good morning" moment between husband and wife involving mention of a dream and something that's "never going to happen," and then hubby is off -- and gone.
The filmmakers keep their story small, honest and quite believable: the police do what they can but, for various reasons that make good enough sense, must finally stop their search. Mom, however (the titular Claire), can't let things go. From the outset, she seems disturbed -- and not simply because of the disappearance. Her memories dredge up moments that show us and finally her that she was not there for her husband in certain important ways. Of course, who of us is, some of the time, at least. Don't we all disappoint our spouses?

Still, what rankles Claire (a very composed and thoughtful performance from Betsy Brandt) goes deeper, and as the movie does, too, we're made aware of this woman's problems with intimacy. This shows up not only in her relationship with her husband (the little-seen but effective Chris Beetum), but also with her son, played with quiet, still-waters-run-deep control by Zev Haworth, shown below. And when a younger art student turns up (the wonderfully enigmatic Anna Margaret Hollyman) with whom Paul -- surreptitiously, as it turns out -- was working on a wildlife art project, offering what could be some help, Claire rebuffs her, too.

It's good to see a piece of American independent cinema that avoids easy melodrama in favor of a more thoughtful analysis of a quietly fraught situation. The movie treads a fine but consistent line between the mystery at hand (that disappearance) and the other, deeper mystery that involves character and motive.

Things do finally connect and evolve regarding both mysteries, though perhaps not firmly nor conclusively enough for some viewers. The movie held my attention perfectly well, however, and I was pleased with the minor but telling resolutions provided.

From Breaking Glass Pictures and running a just-right 74 minutes, the movie opens this Friday, January 13, in a dozen theaters across the country. In New York it will play the Cinema Village, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Music Hall, and here in the Miami area you can find it at the Cinema Paradiso. Elsewhere: Atlanta - Plaza Theater, Philadelphia - The Roxy Theater, Cleveland - Tower, City Cinemas, Denver - SIE Film Center, Chicago - Facets Cinema, San Francisco - The Roxie, Portland - Clinton Street Theater, Toronto - Kingsway Theater, and in Seattle (with the theater still pending). If you are not near any of these locations, the movie can be simultaneously seen via VOD.

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