My wife sighed it best. “Why is it that in every film about an elderly couple, one of them has to have a serious illness, usually some kind of dementia?”
I don’t know, but at times “Still Mine” really does feel like the Australian/Canadian version of “Amour,” the 2013 winner for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year. Even “Amour” gave you that deja vu sense of having seen it before.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir once remarked, “Old age is like a plane flying through a storm. Once you’re aboard, there’s nothing you can do.” But while decline is at the surprising forefront of every thought, surely there are other aspects to old age that filmmakers might explore.
Credit writer-director Michael McGowan (“Saint Ralph”) for adding a layer of interest with a dual focus. Yes, octogenarian Irene Morrison (Genevieve Bujold) is dealing with a frightening decline into Alzheimer’s, when at times she can’t remember the most basic details and has begun to become a danger to herself and to others because of such things as leaving an oven mitt on a hot stove. But this story is also about her husband, Craig (James Cromwell), and his need to prove to himself that he can still tackle a big project like building a home the way his father taught him, and that includes cutting down his own trees and milling his own lumber. It may start out as something he’s doing for his wife—downsizing so that he can care for her in a smaller place overlooking the bay, rather than putting her in a home as their children advise. But the project quickly becomes a matter of pride for him and his way of not going gently into that good night.
“When did we become a nation full of bureaucrats?” Craig wonders aloud. The New Brunswick native is talking about Canada, but his story will ring true for anyone who’s ever had to deal with permits, local laws, and the sometimes arrogant people whose job it is to administer or enforce those rules. He wants to know why he has to pay $400 for a building permit to put up a structure on land he already owns—land that is far away from town and other neighbors, so it’s not that what he does will affect anyone but himself and those who visit. Anyone who’s tried to buy decent lumber or complained about the quality of workmanship will appreciate work that Craig does with his own hands.
Cromwell and Bujold deliver dynamite yet sensitive performances, and quite frankly they’re the main reason anyone should see “Still Mine.” Quiet or slow-moving scenes are enhanced by their facial expressions and the subtle things they do to hold a viewer’s attention, and the quality of their work is especially evident when you consider the rest of the cast. They’re accomplished, mind you, but Cromwell and Bujold really did deep to play this longtime married couple, and it’s a pleasure watching them interact with each other.
The plot itself is nothing extraordinary. There are no ebbs and flows, no peaks and valleys, just a constant objection to Craig’s project by local bureaucrats. Even when things slowly (and rather mellowly) come to a head, you know there are only two outcomes possible, and there isn’t much tension involved. We take our cue from an eightysomething who never loses his temper . . . or his resolve. And we roll with it.
“Still Mine” is rated PG-13 for “thematic elements and brief sensuality/partial nudity.”
This quiet drama is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen, and I saw no problems as a result of the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a 50GB disc. There is a slight, pleasing layer of film grain throughout, but the level of detail and true-looking colors make you really appreciate the sets and settings.
The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1, and the mix makes nice use of ambient sounds, channeling them believably across the sound field. There’s not much bass presence, but then, who needs it? This is a sedate little film, and the sound matches. Subtitles are in English SDH and Spanish.
“Still Mine” comes with a UV copy, but there are no other bonus features.
With riveting performances by the stars and location filming offering gorgeous shots of St. Martins, Saint John, and other areas of New Brunswick and Ontario Canada, it’s hard not to like “Still Mine.”