21 March, 2012

Macon: "A Wake" (****)

Raoul Bhaneja and Sarain Boylan star in "A Wake"

The winner of both the Narrative Jury Prize and the Melvin Douglas Award for Best in Show at this year's Macon Film Festival was "A Wake." The film by Penelope Buitenhuis centers around a group of thespians who reunite in snowy Ontario for the wake of their beloved late theater director, Gabor Zazlov. Bringing with them plenty of unfinished business and unresolved issues, the characters are all especially unstable due to the added emotional weight of of Gabor's death.

While I would single out Martha Burns and Raoul Bhaneja as the most convincing, the whole cast is fantastic. The interactions between characters feel very authentic and everyone gets at least one moment to shine on their own. Only in one or two instances do you feel like the drama might be a tad over the top.

The movie provides plenty of entertainment and maintains a steady stride, but you aren't blown away by anything while you are watching. However, as the credits begin to roll, a note revealing that the dialogue was improvised by the actors changes everything. This revelation takes a good film and makes it exceptional, completely elevating the already strong performances. A feat like this requires a brilliant, confident filmmaker and a talented, like-minded cast.

In the weeks since seeing "A Wake," the film as really stayed with me. Buitenhuis has certainly gained a new fan in me. I hope she continues to be so daring in her filmmaking.

4 out of 5 stars.

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