Still Mine (and a bit of Bliss)Friday, March 1st, 2013 6:54 pm—Film
Still Mine (Canada 2012, Drama), Writer/Director: Michael McGowan
Bliss (Canada 2013, Drama), Writer/Director: Amanda Sage
I was pretty excited to learn that my short movie, Bliss, would be screened at the 2013 Kingston Canadian Film Festival. After all, Kingston was my stomping grounds during my Queen’s University days, and the festival was founded by my friend, and Kickass Canadian, Alex Jansen. But I was over the moon when I found out Bliss would be paired with the festival’s opening night screening of Still Mine, the latest feature from writer/director Michael McGowan.
McGowan is one of Canada’s most prominent filmmakers, with My Dog Vincent, Saint Ralph (see the Saint Ralph review from April 2009), One Week (see the One Week review from May 2009) and Score: A Hockey Musical to his credit. I’ve been a big fan of his since seeing Saint Ralph nearly 10 years ago—not long after finishing my previous short movie, Sight Lines. So having Bliss shown at the same screening as McGowan’s latest film, on top of getting to meet him and hear him speak about Still Mine, made for a pretty kickass evening.
Things started off with a Q+A led by Saturday Night at the Movies host Thom Ernst, which revealed as much about McGowan’s character as it did about his process. He’s clearly as real, funny and sincere as the films he makes. That’s no small thing, given how varied and accomplished his career has been: runner (he won the 1995 Detroit marathon), carpenter, English teacher, novelist, journalist, screenwriter, film director.
Then we moved onto the movies themselves. After seeing Bliss on the big screen for the first time (having missed its premiere at the Vancouver Island Short Film Festival), I got to see the work of a real pro as Still Mine began to weave its spell. The film is based on the remarkable true story of Craig Morrison (James Cromwell), an elderly New Brunswick man who sets about building a better home for him and his wife Irene (Geneviève Bujold) when her advancing Alzheimer’s makes their current house unlivable.
The challenge—as if Alzheimer’s wasn’t enough—comes when the local building inspectors continually give Craig grief over code violations, even though his tried-and-true methods are shown to be superior to modern techniques. Old vs. new. Proven vs. assumed. Logic vs. bureaucracy.
The house is deemed invalid and Craig is ordered to stop working on it. No matter that he’d been building it with all the knowledge he’d inherited from his father (who’d been a professional joiner) and the skills he’d developed over eight decades. Or that there is nothing structurally unsound about the building. And so Craig is forced to choose between the right way or the legal way of going forward.
All the old familiar faces of a Michael McGowan film come out for Still Mine. That perfect mixture of heartfelt and humorous, which McGowan says he strives for in all his stories. A male protagonist butting heads with authority, choosing to chart his own course. A man trying to navigate a relationship with the woman in his life.
But of all the McGowan films I’ve seen, this one features the strongest female counterpart yet. Irene is a layered and complex woman who clearly matters deeply to her husband. Their history is long and firmly rooted, and as perfectly imperfect as the knots in the wood that forms their foundation. This richly drawn relationship is what gives the film its heart.
There’s a moment in Still Mine that reminds me of the most powerful scene in Sarah’s Polley’s Away From Her (see the Away From Her review from July 2007), another film about an elderly couple grappling with a woman’s descent into Alzheimer’s. The moment in Polley’s film features Grant (Gordon Pinsent) leaving Fiona (Julie Christie) for what may be the last time as their former selves—the last time she’ll still remember the life they had. In Still Mine, the moment comes when Irene asks Craig to undress for her.
“It’s been awhile,” he says, before removing his clothes. Irene does the same and then steps into his embrace, holding on tight. In that moment, you can see the years that came before and imagine how many times they’ve come together like that, their bodies slowly aging all the while, bringing them towards this moment.
In the Q+A, McGowan said that his goal in that scene wasn’t to capture nudity, but to capture intimacy. He absolutely succeeded. The nudity couldn’t be further from gratuitous. It speaks to the deep love and connection between the couple, while reflecting on the universal process we all face (if we’re lucky). The fresh, blissful encounters of youth, and how quickly they spool together to form worn, aged moments.
Craig’s search for a way to build a better home for himself and Irene, both literally and figuratively, is about more than simply refusing to give up. It’s about making something that honours who they are as people, and about creating a place that can house all the memories they share—those behind them and those still to come.
With this film, McGowan adds another success to his long list of accomplishments. And he definitely solidifies his standing as a favourite in my books. I’m thrilled, thankful and honoured that Bliss, my many-years-in-the-making movie, ended up being screened with Still Mine.
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Still Mine opens in Canada on May 3, 2013.