Nostalgia (2018), directed by Mark Pellington and written by Pellington and Alex Ross Perry is a dramatic film of lives lived, attachment, memories and loss. And it’s a film on the meaning of objects, possessions, and the memories they evoke in the eyes of the beholder.
Pellington weaves together many visual elements to create an intriguing film. I liked the way the film opens. The film fades from black with voice over to a close up of the upper body of a woman (Shinelle Azoroh) lovingly touching a necklace, a family heirloom, and her ring, another heirloom, to a close up of her smiling face talking to her customer, cutting to a close up of an outstretched arm of a man reaching over the counter to pay his bill, to a medium angle shot of the waitress and restaurant patron Daniel (John Ortiz) facing each other and talking, and then cutting to a wide angle shot of Daniel turning around and facing the camera while the camera zooms in on him. The film is beautifully shot in colour. Pellington juxtaposes the narrative of the objects against the backstory of the characters. Close ups and medium angle shots are interspersed with wide angle shots, low and high angle shots, and aerial shots creating depth and complexity. The film is comprised of a series of vignettes that beautifully transition into each other that focus your attention on the character and/or the characters interactions. And the film includes a marvelous cast of actors where each of the main characters, Helen, Will and Donna, is allowed to shine.
Some of the most powerful scenes in the film include Helen (Ellen Burstyn) shifting through her burnt out house reduced to ashes, and burnt out appliances; Daniel (John Ortiz) revisiting Helen’s burnt out house alone and mining the actions of opening the front door where nothing remains of the structure, gently handling the burnt out objects, caressing the fireplace, and mining the actions of closing the front door when leaving; and the scenes involving Donna (Catherine Keener) grieving the loss of her daughter, and the character’s interaction with her brother, Will (Jon Hamm), her spouse Patrick (James Le Gros), and her close friends. These scenes are emotionally overwhelming and a tribute to Catherine Keener’s acting ability. You feel the character’s anguish, agony and the pain of her loss.
Some of the most poignant scenes involve Will, a middle-aged man, sitting on his bed in his childhood home, and reading his father’s letters written to his mother, and meeting Tallie Beam, Donna and Patrick’s daughter, (Annalise Basso) while Will and Donna reminisce and go through their family’s belongings in the attic of their family home. After catching a glimpse of Tallie, the apple of her mother’s eye, and much loved by others, and watch the scenes that follow, you feel the impact of her loss, and are swept up too in the grieving process.
It’s a fascinating glimpse into the meaning of objects which encapsulate memories, a longing, a desire and a way the characters see themselves and the importance of lives lived. It is a well-crafted film that artistically explores the theme of loss and memory and letting go, and the title of the film is very apropos. I highly recommend it and a word of warning; don’t forget to bring some tissues with you because you are going to need them.
Elevation Pictures releases Nostalgia on Friday, March 2, 2018