Monday, October 3, 2011

God is Love and Versa Visa

"If we could each other, as much as we say we love Him, I 'spect there wouldn't be the bother in the world there is."

-Eva Le Gallienne as Grandma Pearl
in Resurrection

Francois Rabelais once said, "Nature abhors a vacuum." I think the same can be said of mankind in a metaphysical since. We hate ambiguity, especially when it involves the big mysteries of life. We have a hard time accepting the wonders of the universe at face value and seem to feel the need to assign meaning or assume knowledge. Should anyone or anything get in the way of our knowing the unknowable (or pretending to), they tend to get crucified.

In the 1980 film Resurrection, Edna Mae McCauley (Ellen Burstyn) is a transplanted mid-westerner  living with her husband in California when tragedy strikes. Edna Mae suffers a near-death accident and decides to return home with her father (Roberts Blossom) to recuperate on their rural Kansas farm. Soon after her homecoming, she discovers she has acquired the power to heal and is encouraged by her grandmother to use it to help the community. Of course, a few people have a problem with Edna Mae's miraculous power and just can't accept her mysterious blessing at face value.

After watching a pristine version of the movie on Netflix Instant, I was surprised and confused that the tag words used to describe the film were "supernatural" and "fantasy".  The story, characters and settings feel so authentic, that the movie doesn't seem to have any fantastical elements although the description is, in fact, very accurate. Scenes, such as Edna Mae and her cousin Kathy (Lois Smith) catching up on the local gossip, ring very true and feel quite natural. The distant relationship between Edna Mae and her father also feels very real especially Blossoms' portrayal of the stoic, loveless widower/father. Ellen Burstyn absolutely owns the 'every-woman' role and is superb in this film playing someone, who while not a saint, is a very decent, caring and moral person. Her performance anchors the film and really tugs at the heart without ever being sentimental. I found myself tearing up several times as Burstyn struggled to recover from her tragedy and then began healing those around her. Burstyn is supported by some first-rate character actors like Roberts Blossom, Richard Farnsworth, Lois Smith, Sam Shepard, Jeffrey DeMunn and stage actress Eva Le Gallienne. Both Burstyn and Le Gallienne were nominated for Oscars for the film, but the rest of the cast is incredibly praiseworthy.

Oscar nominated writer, Lewis John Carlino, who wrote the screenplays for such films as The Mechanic,  Crazy Joe, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea, The Great Santini, and one of my all-time favorite TV movies, Where Have All the People Gone? wrote Resurrection and imbued it with a mid-western tone, sensibility and melancholy. It could have gone overboard in so many ways, but there's a nice subtle restraint to the writing that keeps it out of the melodramatic and/or maudlin territories.
Canadian director Daniel Petrie, who has a wildly diverse resume, has piloted some of my favorite sleeper films including Buster and Billie, Fort Apache The Bronx, The Bay Boy and Rocket Gibraltor, but is probably best know for A Raisin in the Sun with Sydney Poitier. He mixes some nice outdoor footage (with Texas standing in for Kansas) as much as possible to emphasize the vast expansiveness and loneliness of the mid-west.
Lastly, French composer Maurice Jarre, who has worked on over 150 films including Eyes Without a Face, Witness, Doctor Zhivago and The Tin Drum provides the oft etherial music for Resurrection, and although it's not nearly as memorable as some of his other work, it's still quite serviceable.
If I have any complaint about the film, it's in the cinematography from DoP Mario Tosi, whose work always seems to be uninspired, drab and colorless. There were great opportunity's for some vista and landscape shots that were photographed poorly. There were some similarly wasted opportunities in Buster and Billie which featured some nice rural southern locations that were also shot haphazardly. Unfortunately, the cheap looking cinematography gives the film a made-for-TV look. It may be the reason the film's never had a proper DVD release even though it garnered many awards and much critical acclaim.

Overall, Resurrection is an uplifting film that doesn't get preachy but nevertheless delivers its message through engaging performances and a heartwarming, if somewhat sad story. It's an unforgettable and surprisingly moving film that makes me yearn to move back to the mid-west. Although quite different in story, in many ways the film reminded me of David Lynch's The Straight Story and would make an excellent companion piece about middle America.

Score 8.5/10

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