'Claire in Motion': SIFF Review

Courtesy of Seattle International Film Festival
Brandt impresses in this sensitive moving-on drama.

'Breaking Bad's' Betsy Brandt plays a woman sure that her vanished husband is still alive.

A woman refuses to accept the likely death of her husband in Lisa Robinson and Annie J. Howell's Claire in Motion, which presents its protagonist with the realization that she might have lost her spouse even before he left home on a fateful camping trip. A quiet breakthrough for star Betsy Brandt, best known for playing Walter White's sister-in-law on Breaking Bad, the picture is a cousin to Francois Ozon's 2000 Under the Sand, replacing that film's poetic mysteries with a more reality-bound psychological observation. Fest auds should respond well.

Claire (Brandt) is a college mathematics professor whose husband Paul, an ornithologist, takes solo vacations into nearby mountains to hone his survival skills. When he doesn't return from one, an intense manhunt scours the forest near the couple's Athens, Ohio, home. It turns up nothing, and is called off before Claire is satisfied, as weather has made some areas too hazardous to search.

Nearly a month later, Claire's son Connor (Zev Haworth) finally tells his mother he's not going to participate anymore in her daily search-hikes and "Have You Seen This Man?" poster campaign. She's feeling slightly betrayed when something much bigger comes along: news that Paul had a secret hobby making art, and had become close friends with a beautiful young grad student named Allison (Anna Margaret Hollyman) who collaborated with him.

The meeting of the two women is a study in emotional openness meeting psychic barriers. Allison wants to bond, showing no sign she understands how upsetting it is that she knows a side of Paul that Claire never saw. Claire digests the revelations civilly, if not quite calmly, but is not in the market for this kind of confidante.

Especially once Connor warms to Allison, this has all the makings of an ugly jealous feud. But the filmmakers have more respect for their characters than that, and let each woman pursue her own understanding of the loss in her life. Without ever putting the underlying mystery to bed — is Paul's corpse rotting in a ravine, or did he flee to make a new life? — the story focuses on those left behind. And Claire, though she might seem brittle in her most tested moments, does not break.

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival
Production company: Sacha Pictures
Cast: Betsy Brandt, Anna Margaret Hollyman, Zev Haworth, Sakina Jaffrey, Chris Beetem, Ken Strunk
Directors-screenwriters: Lisa Robinson, Annie J. Howell
Producers: Annie J. Howell, Lisa Robinson, Jenny Deller
Executive producer: Yael Melamede
Director of photography: Andreas Burgess
Production designer: Emmeline Wilks-Dupoise
Costume designer: Naomi Wolff
Editor: Jim Isler
Composer: Xander Duell
Casting director: Emer O'Callaghan
Sales: Visit Films

Not rated, 83 minutes