Despite what you might have feared, the sources of quality films in the world are many and varied. While the signal is weak among the noise of marketers hawking the latest bombastic blowing-s**t-up movies (full disclosure: I don’t hate all of those), authentic filmmaking thrives. Real artisan filmmakers are still at work in earnest to bring fine art to an audience who can appreciate it when they find it.
Example: director Simon Fink was recommended the L.A. Sacred Fools Theatre production of A Gulag Mouse, written by Arthur M. Jolly, which he saw several times and decided to make into a film. His stage to screen interpretation is Where We Disappear: an intense, dramatic meditation on the illusion of freedom and control as one woman copes with imprisonment in a Siberian gulag shortly after World War II.
Anastasia (Georgina Haig) is a beautiful Russian woman waiting with her son at a train station for her father. Instead, coincidentally and unexpectedly, the man who exits the train is her abusive soldier husband returning from the war. She had assumed he was killed in action. He informs her that in short order she’ll be back under the lash being beaten into compliance as his obedient wife. She responds by knifing him to death and she is dragged away to her fate.
Her arrival at the gulag upsets the balance of power in the freezing cold shack she shares with other women. They predict she will die within the first week, as most newcomers with soft hands do.
“…an intense, dramatic meditation on the illusion of freedom and control…“
Australian actress Georgina Haig (Fringe, Once Upon a Time) carries the film confidently as Anastasia: mother, wife, murderess, and then prisoner.
The dialog is oddly formal, a holdover from the stage play script, and also from the Russian conceit. The feeling is Chekhov, even though the play was written in English. Fink and Jolly neatly capture that sense.
Some time ago the label “art film” was used to describe movies that were outside the mainstream, but in a more refined direction than, say, horror or porn. Lately the term “indie” is used in much the same way, but since Hollywood long ago abandoned any notion of complex layers of plot and character, most thought-provoking new films are made independently (or on television), whether they are particularly arty or not.
In this case, it is appropriate to reconstitute the moniker “art film” for a beautiful and deliberate exploration of human resilience.
Where We Disappear (2019) Directed by Simon Fink. Written by Arthur M. Jolly. Starring Georgina Haig, Jolene Andersen, Katharine Isabelle. Where We Disappear screened at the 2019 Dances With Films.
8 out of 10