Published Apr 01, 2003Written with piercing verisimilitude by Daniel MacIvor, Marion Bridge is the story of three sisters attending their mother as she dies from terminal cancer. The two older sisters, Theresa (Rebecca Jenkins) and Louise (Stacy Smith), have remained in Cape Breton, while the youngest, Agnes (Molly Parker), has been living in Toronto. All three are uncanny representatives of their roles in the family pecking order, but full and sympathetic characters in their own right. Anyone might recognise the barely veiled combativeness of siblings with unresolved issues, but a serious vein of tragedy further constrains relations here.
Confined interior shots contrast with road imagery, underscoring the distances they must clock either to reconcile or to run away. Both routes have appeal for Agnes (played with great inner life and outer charm by Parker), the one with the most onerous burden of secrecy. Revealed as an alcoholic, 65 days sober, her guise of urban sophistication is insufficient armour against the pragmatic resignation of Theresa and Louise. Agnes is artful in her efforts to reverse ancient patterns, but artless in her inability to recognise her condescension towards her family. In her mother, Rose (painted as a manipulative yet charismatic grotesque by Marguerite McNeil), Agnes finds a kind of kindred spirit. Connected by their cravings for alcohol and cigarettes, and a spirited desire for authenticity, they unwittingly loosen the mortar that paralyses them all.
With the death of Rose, several other motifs are either resolved or come to an end, making a dramatic circle that feels complete yet is porous enough for us to enter according to our own experiences. Unfortunately, today's passion for closure reigns and a shapely script suddenly becomes episodic and sentimental. The last five minutes are a disservice to the intimacy already achieved by observant writing, eloquent performances and unobtrusive direction. (Mongrel Media)