Pusan International Film Festival

BUSAN, South Korea -- Like the high-profile "Reservation Road" and "White Night" (also screening at PIFF), "Normal" tracks the after-effects of a devastating accident. Constructed like an interconnected character piece a la "Short Cuts" or "Crash," the film doesn't have as much finesse as the former, but is a good deal less manipulative than the latter.

Carl Bessai's latest is intermittently affecting, though too often it wallows in soap opera. Carrie-Anne Moss' dramatic star turn could generate interest for a limited release in its native Canada and possibly on the festival circuit. Theatrical distribution elsewhere seems a long shot.

Catherine (Moss) is the grieving mother of teenager Nicky, traumatized to the point of near paralysis following his death in a drunk-driving accident. She's distanced herself from her husband and neglected her younger son Brady (Cameron Bright, "Birth") for two years. Jordie was Nicky's best friend, just out of juvenile detention, and living once again with his overbearing father Carl (Michael Riley) and his young wife Elise (Camille Sullivan). Professor Walt (Callum Keith Rennie), who has an autistic brother and a failing marriage, is overwhelmed with guilt at causing the accident that killed Nicky.

For most of its running time, "Normal" unfolds as a series of vignettes, some vivid and compelling. Catherine's anger and suffering are palpable, as is her family's frustration. Their weariness with her extended mourning is understandable too. The troubled Jordie, with his own burden to bear, is equally believable in his unfocused rage, and Walt's resigned responsibility toward his brother rings true.

When Jordie begins an affair with his stepmother, it's straight out of daytime television, and adds a good dose of unnecessary sordidness to narrative. Not to be outdone, Walt gets in on the sexy plot turns as well, with a student. It's here that "Normal" steps into the realm of melodrama in its attempt to investigate life in an affluent and white Vancouver suburb.

From the beginning, it's clear that the grief-stricken Catherine and the guilt-ridden Walt are on the sort of collision course. This results in mutual redemption, yet the catharsis is only mildly satisfying.

Bessai gets the strongest performances from Moss, the underrated Rennie (possibly best known now as the Cylon Leoben on "Battlestar Galactica") and Zegers, who makes a cliche character believable. "Normal" functions best as a series of snapshots about lingering guilt, the desire for redemption, and the dangers in allowing grief. But as a whole, "Normal" isn't quite convincing.

A Mongrel Media, Raven West Films, Submission Films production
Director: Carl Bessai
Screenwriters: Travis McDonald, Carl Bessai
Producers: Andrew Boutilier, Carl Bessai
Executive producers: Stephen Hegyes, Shawn Williamson, Phil Hunt, Compton Ross
Director of photography: Carl Bessai
Production designer: Nancy Mossop
Music: Clinton Shorter
Co-producer: Rajvinder Uppal
Costume designer: Michele Maillet
Editor: Lisa Binkley
Catherine: Carrie-Anne Moss
Jordie: Kevin Zegers
Walt: Callum Keith Rennie
Dale: Andrew Airlie
Brady: Cameron Bright
Dennis: Tygh Runyan
Abby: Allison Hossack
Sherri: Lauren Lee Smith

Running time --100 minutes
No MPAA rating