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Michael Murphy’s quietly intense, mesmerizing performance is the principal asset of Terrance Odette’s glacial-paced drama about an aged priest struggling with guilt over an incident of sexual abuse he may or may not have committed in the distant past. Straining mightily for a Bergmanesque somberness but mainly smacking of pretension, Fall suffers from its overly determined subtlety.
The veteran character actor, best known for his frequent collaborations with Robert Altman, plays the lead role of Father Sam, who tends to his small Niagara Falls flock in dedicated fashion. But as he goes about his day-to-day activities, Father Sam exhibits an emotional weariness and resignation hinting that he’s going through the motions. Among the parishioners he deals with are a young couple (Katie Boland, Michael Luckett) planning to get married and a gay Iranian man (Cas Anvar) wrestling with his conflicted feelings about his recently deceased mother.
Father Sam’s life changes irrevocably when he receives a letter from a dying man, Christopher, whom he had mentored decades earlier. The letter alleges to an incident in which Father Sam had spent the night and shared a bed with Christopher when he was 14 years old, and asks whether or not anything inappropriate had occurred.
The disturbing missive leads the priest to embark on a road trip to distant northern Ontario, first to visit his elderly mother and free-spirited sister (Wendy Crewson), and eventually to confront Christopher’s widow Catherine (an excellent Suzanne Clement, Mommy), who bitterly accuses him of having sexually molested her late husband. He denies the charge, but it’s apparent that not even he is sure about what exactly happened.
Writer/director Odette shows more interest in creating ominous moodiness than drumming up suspense, resulting in many lengthy, static scenes in which nothing much happens. There are endless close-ups of Father Sam looking morose and thoughtful, many featuring such picturesque backdrops as the roaring waterfalls (Norayr Kasper’s handsome widescreen cinematography effectively conveys the stark beauty of the wintry settings). At one point he eats dinner alone at home, quietly staring into space as he chews and foregoing such common distractions as television or a book.
That the film works to the extent that it does is a testament to Murphy’s ability to command the screen with stillness. His anguished expressions and halting body language go a long way toward filling in the frustrating narrative blanks.
Production company: Lentin Odette Productions
Distributor: Breaking Glass Pictures
Cast: Michael Murphy, Katie Boland, Joel Bissonnette, Cas Anvar, Wendy Crewson, Suzanne Clement
Director-screenwriter: Terrance Odette
Producer: Mehernaz Lentin
Director of photography: Norayr Kasper
Production designer: William Layton
Editor: Caroline Christie
Costume designer: Ginger Martini
Composer: Nick Storring
Casting: Jon Comerford
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